Confined to chaos at Central Jail

Confined to chaos at Central Jail

Confined to chaos at Central Jail

Chaotic. That sums up the state of affairs in the prisons across the State, especially the Central Prisons in Parappana Agrahara in Bangalore. A reality check could offer a glimpse into what goes into the prisons. You could do that, but only after seeking permission from the prisons topbrass, who will insist that the story be filtered through them!

The Additional Director General, Prisons, agrees to allow a visit to the prison, but with certain checks and clauses. The reporter has to show the story before it is published. Negotiating administrative layers such as these, the reality check finally zooms into the prison, and finds a place in decay, crying out for transparency and a big shake up.

Are the prison staff mere scapegoats in a bigger game? A clean chit is not easily given, because many agree they too are to be blamed for the current mess. Though the prison department is governed by various Acts, Rules, and Manuals, all these sound outdated and lack transparency. Right from the entry point to the release of a prisoner, nothing seems to be in order. In fact, it is a miracle how the system is still surviving.

Consider this: Currently, former minister Katta Subramanya Naidu and his corporator son Jagadish and the ITASCA MD Srinivas included, there are 4,299 inmates (including undertrials) at the Parappana Agrahara central jail. But there are hardly 440 staffers to keep a watch on these inmates round the clock. Practically speaking, there can’t be more than 40 prison staffers on duty for each shift.

Right from infrastructure issues, there seems to be a major problem. Acute shortage of staff and funds also haunt the authorities. Mainly, there is a lack of clarity in procedures.
Too many things are left to individual discretion and in all, there is too much dependency on many departments (police, prison, health). They are seen interfering in the daily running of the jails, and as a result inmates/convicts have gotten smart enough to cash in on the situation and enjoy their stay behind bars.

From the preparation of food to the distribution, medical facility, parole, escorting criminals to courts, visiting rights, and to the time of release, it is a laborious and taxing process, and demands manpower. But the government has turned a Nelson’s eye to the issue.  A strong team (Prison minister, home secretary, ADGP&IG, doctors, psychiatrists) who can stay for a minimum of three years and set right the affairs is the need of the hour, say officials on conditions of anonymity.

A notorious criminal, talking to Deccan Herald, posed a challenging question: “Till date, not a single ADGP & IG Prisons (IPS officer) ‘in uniform’ has had the guts to walk into the prisons alone and take a head-count.  The prison staff is helpless and depends on us (life convicts) who manage the other undertrials and others. The entire setup is stinking and in fact, we pity their plight. We are destined to stay put in the jail and make certain adjustments so that everything is smooth.”

A retired senior officer confirmed this. “The government and the higher-ups have made a mockery of themselves while building a new Central Jail. Once they decided to shift the jail from the heart of the city, they should have invited the prison staff, who have off-hand knowledge as to what is required inside the jail. Later, they could have studied the prisons abroad and arrived at a sensible structure. Instead, they built a massive structure, which serves no purpose.”

Currently, it is humanly impossible to keep an eye on what’s happening inside the jail. Taking a headcount itself is a daunting task every day. Once the figures are tallied, the jail staff leaps in joy as if it has won a world cup. There is no dining hall, not enough space to accommodate classified inmates (habitual, deadly criminals, Gooda Act, terrorist and others). Around 15 barracks with six dormitories are at the disposal of the officers to provide shelter to the convicts. Even there, there are segregations in the VIP cells.
Various committees have done in-depth studies and submitted reports but nothing concrete has been done for the upkeep of the prisons. Three department’s police, prison, health form the nucleus, but there seems to be a major communication gap that has left the prisons rusting.

No doctors

There are only two doctors for 4,500 inmates at the Bangalore jail. A lone ophthalmologist and a physician, take all the burden. Besides, there are no doctors on the night shift. “In case of emergency, we have to depend on outside hospitals. Here again, we need to wait for police escort. Innumerable inmates suffer from various ailments and due to lack of escorts, they are forced to wait for medical attention,” says a prisons insider.

Sunil, an inmate, recollects a horrifying incident when a criminal started masturbating in front of a female doctor. Likewise, there are several incidences where medical practioneers get fed up of the jail life and request for transfer.

Escorting the criminals to the courts is the major problem and despite debates, meetings and propels, the government is unable to arrive at a formula. A former Bellary superintendent recollects how the inmates were rotting and were unable to go to the courts due to the political situation.  In 1999, Sonia Gandhi and Sushma Swaraj had locked horns over the Bellary seat. In the melee, the police department were busy in  maintaining law and order and refused to escort the inmates to court.

Video conferencing facility is available. Yet, in most cases at evidence and other stages, the accused are supposed to be present in the court. Interestingly, when asked as to how mobile phones, ganja, cigarettes, matchbox and other stuff finds their way into the jail, the prison authorities have a standard answer: ‘We are doing our best.’ Another alibi is being ‘short staffed’. They want the government to set up special escort police teams. Years ago, there was a move to shift nearly 200 City Armed Reserve  police staff to the prisons department. Later, the then State police chief had found that discarded ‘force’ (drunkards, misconduct and useless) were sent on deputation to the department. The DG&IGP of the day had reversed the order and sent them back to their parent department.

Akshaya Patra in jail a failure

ISKCON’s unique initiative of serving meals and dinner to the inmates at the Central Prisons was stopped abruptly, thanks to non-cooperation from the prison higher-ups.
Sources in ISKCON blamed the senior officers for stopping the programme. There was no cooperation, support and help from the prisons staff. Moreover, ISKCON had to sacrifice a lot of money. Bill payment was not regular. ISKCON served 10,000 plates of food, including lunch and dinner, every day. It continued the programme despite opposition from donors, but a decision was taken to stop the programme a year ago when the administrative situation did not improve.

Organisational Structure

The Prisons Department is headed by an Additional Director General of Police & Inspector General of Prisons. He is assisted by DIG Prisons (KAS officer) and Gazetted Managers at the Headquarters. Under him, are a Chief Superintendent,  Superintendents, Assistant supervisors, Jailors and Warders. Interestingly, a few handpicked life-term inmates also act as chief warders.

As of now, there are more than 100 jails in the state. The Central Prisons, District Prisons, District Head Quarters Sub-jails, Special Sub jails and Taluka Sub-Jails are managed by departmental staff. Out of 70 Taluka sub-jails, 29 under department control and 41 are under Revenue control.

History of prisons in Karnataka

Prisons in Karnataka are among the oldest public institutions and so are the buildings housing them. The Central Prison in Bijapur is the oldest in Karnataka. Built in 1593 to serve as a guesthouse for King Adil Shahi’s guests, the monument was converted into a prison in 1888. Many other prisons were built during the 18th and 19th century, including the Sub-Jail at Ramanagaram (1783), Central Prison, Mysore (1862), District Sub-jail, Dharwad (1858), District Prison, Mangalore (1850), and Central Prison, Bellary (1884).