Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Decongesting prisons: 42 undertrials freed

It was not easy to believe but it may have started!  The earlier news about release of undertrials from prisons seems to have started with a somewhat substantial number of 42 undertrials being released in a day in Delhi.

A city court released 42 undertrial prisoners Wednesday in a start to a project to put the criminal justice system on a fast track. The plan is to reduce the number of undertrial prisoners by two-third in the next six months. About 170,000 prisoners will be released countrywide by July.

The process, an initiative of Law and Justice Minister M. Veerappa Moily who was present at the Patiala House court along with Delhi High Court Justice Madan B.Lokur here to witness the first such release Wednesday, was started in view of the overcrowding in Indian jails, the huge pendency of cases and long delays in the justice delivery system.

'It's a reformative process and should be encouraged,' Moily said on the occasion.

Forty six cases were listed Wednesday in the special court of Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Ajay Pandey, all dealing with petty offences. The list included prisoners who are still in jail just because they cannot raise their bail bond money.

Among 42, 12 prisoners were released after they furnished their personal bonds and the remaining 30 prisoners pleaded guilty and were acquitted.

Hello? Prisoners pleaded guilty and then were acquitted? I know there is a process of law that a judge can order trial to continue for a person even if he/she pleads guilty; but for someone to be acquitted after pleading guilty cannot be possible.

Those prisoners who were released or granted bail are offenders involved in petty offences like theft, pick-pocketing, snatching and robberies.

Four prisoners could not be freed as they are involved in other cases as well.

'Need of the hour is to release prisoners who are lodged in jails for years together and are involved in petty offences so that they don't become hard core criminals when they come out,' Moliy said.

Ok. So the law minister has admitted publicly at least that being in jail for long time can make one into hardcore criminal.  It is like a university of crime, right?

'We are planning to release 1.7 lakh prisoners till July 31 around India. To begin this, we have informed all the courts and the various legal services authorities to prepare the list of prisoners who can be released,' Moily said.

The government has asked all state high courts to identify undertrials who are not involved in heinous crimes and whose cases can be expedited.

Moily said the union cabinet has 'in principle' agreed to operationalise and implement the national legal mission - 'a step towards guaranteeing access to justice for every citizen, including those in jails'.

The minister said chief justices of state high courts have been asked to prepare a report 'as fast as possible' about the people in jails, their offences, the nature of cases, and the maximum punishment they can invite so these trials can be completed by July 31.

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