Saturday, January 5, 2013


A prison by whatever name one calls it, invariably evokes scare and dread among laymen because of its association with criminals and under trials. Probably brutality stories emanating from some of the major prisons in the county have further brought down the image of prisons among citizens. In spite of many developments that attempted to modernize the prison system in India and many other countries, this stark image of prisons is unlikely to fade away so easily. It is not that convicted prisoners with brutal crimes behind them should be housed in air-conditioned cells with all modern facilities including high class foods but still their basic essential needs ought to be met to lead a normal healthy life within the precincts of the prison. It is against this context that recent reports from Kerala high lighting the development of some prisons into good quality catering units must be appreciated.

China is the country which perfected the "art" or better call it the "practice" to use forcefully prisoner population for productive work, turning out cheap consumer products benefiting the society at large. Of course the human right activists frown upon such practices but honestly there should be no bar for utilizing the manpower in the prisons for useful purpose, the only rider being that there should not be any physical torture for forcing them to do work. There are many countries where reformist seal is perceptible when prisoners are motivated to better their education and skill though appropriate facilities and conducive environment. In some countries many convicted prisoners for mild law violations are given social work as punishment with minimum restriction on their movements. Probably open prison system that is being propounded for long may not be realistic in the near future though working for that goal is admirable.

Every country is faced with the dilemma as to what to do with its prisoners who form substantial numbers in countries like India, China, Indonesia, Brazil etc because they form a population whose productivity potential is locked up and they are not provided with another opportunity to prove that they have really been transformed. If capital punishment is banished all over the world as being propounded by the United Nations, the alternative option of life imprisonment punishment will contribute to increased prison population in the coming years. A global consensus on prison reforms can unleash a force that can be harnessed for the welfare of the very society against whom the culprits have committed the crime. Probably innovative ideas like prison schools and universities, captive training units and such knowledge upgrading schemes can go a long way in reforming most criminals.

One of the objections to engage the prison population for manufacturing and other activities involved in value addition services is that they are paid very little compared to regular industrial labor. Probably this can be tackled by evolving a wage computing system that will be equitable in nature. The cost of facilities for housing and managing the prisoners can be deducted from the standard wage due to them and rest can be credited to the account of the prisoner for eventual withdrawal at the time of discharge. This will hopefully give the prisoner enough motivation to behave in an exemplary manner earning money as well as commutation of the sentence for good behavior. Of course the issue is not as simple as one thinks and lot of scientific, psychological, managerial, social and logistical inputs are necessary for evolving a workable and equitable prisoner rehabilitation program.    

Taking the example of the Central Prison, Poojappura, in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, it is remarkable that this dreaded prison has improved its image significantly during the last few months through its reformist agenda and is no more a place which the public do not like to enter. This is thanks to the food items being prepared and offered to the public utilizing modern facilities in its kitchen. It may be recalled that late last year this "Prison" started selling chapathi from its kitchen and public seems to have been bowled over by this offering with the items sold off in no time! Now comes the news that the Prison has added to its portfolio of products items like Idli, vegetable curry, chicken curry which too have become "hot" items gobbled up by the public! Probably the initial incentive must be the relatively low prices at which their items are sold compared to public restaurants in the town. During the last two years food preparations in hotels and restaurants have seen a price escalation of 100-150% with no rhyme or reason and Kerala is always considered as a price sensitive state with the consumers fiercely resisting such artificial inflationary tendencies.

Imagine a Prison selling 50000 chapathi packets, 8000 Idlis, 4000 chicken curries and 2500 vegetable curries a day! during the last one year the prison department is reported to have contributed about Rs 35 million to the Exchequer through its food selling program! Interestingly the products are not promoted commercially unlike other public restaurants and selling is done through two outlets, one in front of the Central Prison and the other in front of Women's Prison nearby, besides four mobile outlets. talking about mobile outlets, one is reminded of the Food Truck movement in the US which has become a craze in that country in no time and credit must go Kerala for experimenting (or introducing first time in the country) with mobile catering units almost similar to Food Trucks in the US. It will be interesting to study how the prison department is managing this" extra curricular" activity in spite of its heavy burden in administering the regular responsibilities of managing the prison system as a whole. May be a fit subject for the business schools in the country to take up this "phenomenon" for management case studies. How about other prisons in within the state and outside to follow the lead given by the Central Prison in Thiruvananthapuram? Why not?


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