New Delhi: Are you a convict? Well, now you can move freely like a common man. A Delhi court on Saturday ruled that anyone who has been convicted for a crime can perform his daily routine like any common man. The convict can go to office, work 10 to 5, earn, spend time with his family, get annual leave and come back to jail to serve his sentence.

Well the idea may sound Utopian but then a Delhi court has asked the government to consider such a model prisoner reformative system to de-congest jails and adopt a lenient view towards convicts who do not exhibit violent tendency.

The court said such a system was in fact working successfully at Bilaspur in Himachal Pradesh, which could be adopted in a modified manner by the Delhi government.

"I am hopeful that the issue (of open jails) being high on the government agenda, the available options would be considered by NCT of Delhi at the earliest so as to enable the courts to explore alternatives of suspended/ deferred/ limited imprisonment/ incarceration and of imprisonment in open prisons/ correctional institutions in appropriate cases," Additional Sessions Judge Kamini Lau said in a judgement.

The court passed the judgement while pronouncing its sentence in the case of four youth convicted for inflicting injuries on their neighbours at Uttam Nagar area here in 2006.

The judge referred to the "open prison" at Bilaspur, set up in 1960, where even murder convicts are permitted to re-integrate with the society by permitting them to work in offices, set up business or carry out other occupation.

"I am informed that there are 32 open prisons existing all over the country, the oldest being at Bilaspur, Himachal Pradesh which was set up in 1960.  The rules of open prison at
Bilaspur permit prisoners to integrate in society, work outside but return to jail after dusk. As per existing records, not one inmate has ever escaped or gone back to crime.

"The Bilaspur open jail, which presently, I am informed as per available record, houses 78 inmates convicted for murder, has a facility to re-integrate the inmates with society and most of these inmates work 9 to 5 wherever they find work in the town while some inmates work in private firms and others are running shops," the court said.

The judge said that despite the liberty given to them, none of them has resorted to any offending/ violative behaviour or had a second innings in the world of crime.

"This is a jail which gives enough freedom, reposes faith in the inmates and trusts them. It has an objective of prison reforms and has successfully been able to re-integrate the inmates into society.

"The prisoners leave the jail compound at 7:15 in the morning and reach back by 6:00 pm and in case if someone is caught up in work and other sundry issues, the facility of extra time is allowed up till 8:00 pm and even beyond.

The inmates are granted leave on Sundays and 42 days' annual leave to be with the family," the court said. "Open prisons existing in many parts of the country are a response to the problems of over-spilling in jails and are also in tune with the observations of the apex court made time and again on the need for correctional treatment and personalised sentencing with an accent on rehabilitation," the court said.
In the case at hand, the court sentenced Hans Raj (27) to one year jail term while his associates Ganesh (22), Deepak (27) and Shashi (25) were released on probation for one year on furnishing a personal bond of Rs 25,000 with one surety of the like amount.

The judge noted that despite the fact that convicts and the victim have compromised on their dispute, the court could not show leniency towards them due to any such rules.

"I hold that in the absence of any rules, the request of the convicts for passing orders of limited incarceration or in open prisons cannot be acceded to. The interest of justice require that a lenient view be taken against convicts in view of the mitigating factor that the parties have compromised their disputes," the court said.

During the trial, Ajay Chagti, Additional Secretary (Home) and Sunil Gupta, Law  Officer-cum-PRO of Delhi Prisons, had apprised the court that the proposal of semi-open prisons has already been sent to city government for approval.

Agencies