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Author: Srestha Nag, LLM, Criminal and Security Laws from Symbiosis law school, Pune


According to the reformative theory of justice, a criminal should have their hazardous degeneracy removed and should be given the opportunity to start over and live a moral life. The protection of fundamental human dignity, a fundamental constitutional and human right, is therefore ensured. The major emphasis on punitive and retributive kinds of punishment in the current correctional structure makes it inadequate for protecting human dignity. The current jail system in India is antiquated, opaque, and rampant with regular abuses. The need for numerous jail reforms is urgent.

An understanding of open prisons as a peno-correctional institution is sought, as well as their superiority above other, more traditional types of jail sentences in ensuring both the societal goal of criminal sentencing and the human rights goal of the prisoners' successful reintegration after release. The situation is the same in India as well. A survey of the 58 jails in Bihar reveals the appalling living conditions there. A Report of 2015[i] identifies a number of major problems, including overcrowding, understaffing, prison violence, poor medical facilities and other amenities, long-term detention of accused persons awaiting trial, forced hard labor on offenders awaiting trial, abuse of discretionary power by prison officials, limited access to legal counsel, and widespread sexual abuse of detainees.

In light of this, a wide range of sociologists, philosophers, lawyers, and legislators have been pushing for changes to the worldwide jail system. It is now well acknowledged that a wrongdoer cannot be changed via punishment alone. It must be used in conjunction with other strategies to inspire change and transform negative behavior into positive, righteous behavior. It must hone the capacity for compassion and a live-and-let-live sensibility. The correctional programme must include after-care services as a core component. As a result, prisons are no longer just seen as facilities that house inmates for a set amount of time. Now, the focus is on education instead of detention, limitation instead of re-education, and punishment instead of reform and rehabilitation.

Since independence, there has been an ongoing debate over how well our contemporary jail system is achieving the goals of the prison system, which include reforming prisoners and reintegrating them into society as accountable members of society. The All India Jail Manual Committee made recommendations for open prison institutions, among other things, with the lofty goal of protecting inmates' human rights and dignity and their reformation and rehabilitation. At the inaugural United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, held in Geneva in 1955, the necessity of having open prisons and correctional facilities was acknowledged and thoroughly addressed[ii].

This study is to make an effort to comprehend the idea of such open prison facilities, the societal advantages of having such institutions, and the difficulties associated with putting changes in that direction into practice.


1. Why does the execution leave much to be desired, despite the evident benefits and the political pressure given to the acceptance of the concept in the years immediately after independence?

2. Whether the implementation of open jail system be nationwide, considering the pressing issue of overcrowding of prisons?

3. Whether the concept of open jails in India has acquired sufficient advantage over prisoners behind bars?


  • To study the history and evolution of Open prisons in India and the pace of implementation of the same.

  • To analyze whether implementing open jail concept shall curb the major problems of overcrowding and understaffing.

  • To reflect upon the need of open prisons for reformation and social acceptance of prisoners.


The Supreme Court made it clear in Ramamurthy v. State of Karnataka (1997)[iii] that open prisons are one of the best examples of the individualization of punishments for the purpose of social readjustment.

According to a research by Vibhute[iv] , the vocational activities that open prison convicts participate in not only provide them the chance to pursue worthwhile activities while serving their sentences, but also help them develop the skills necessary to pursue a profession after they are released. Additionally, the open jails' pay jobs keep the convicts intellectually busy and prevent them from building the devil's work. It boosts their self-esteem and confidence.

By addressing the issue of overpopulation in Indian prisons, open prisons signal a paradigm shift in prison management. As of December 31, 2018, there were 4,66,084 inmates nationwide, compared to an official capacity of 3,96,223[v]. Over the past ten years, there has been a steady rise in the jail population. Government budgetary resources are under pressure as a result of this. Construction, operating, and maintenance expenses for security and jail staff are greatly reduced in open prisons.

In Dharmbir v. State of Uttar Pradesh (1979)[vi], the Supreme Court noted that open prisons offer certain benefits for juvenile criminals since they might be shielded from some sins that young inmates in traditional jails are subjected to.

Older prisoners who were abandoned by their family find it challenging to support themselves after being released since they have become accustomed to a life in jail and are reliant on the care of other convicts. These convicts may find it easier to adjust to regular life in open prisons. When the only provider for the family receives a lengthy jail term, many families are devastated. In the beginning, open jails aggressively promote prison visits and even let families to lodge with criminals and coexist economically.


An open prison may be defined as any type of correctional facility where inmates serve their sentences without being confined to cells and with just minimal monitoring and border protection. The idea is founded on the ideas of self-control and "trust begets trust," which, when handled well, may transform the humans. The two dictums of Sir Alexander Paterson express the mindset that underlies the existence of the open jail. First of all, a guy is imprisoned for punishment, not for punishment. Second, until the terms of a man's imprisonment and constraints are significantly eased, he cannot be prepared for freedom.[vii]

The concept incorporates some of the most advantageous aspects of closed prisons, probation, and parole. Not all convicts, nevertheless, will be moved from closed facilities to open jails and prisons- it is not planned to transfer prisoners on a regular basis. Every time an inmate completes a minimum mandatory period of incarceration in a closed prison, a screening committee is tasked with determining the inmate's eligibility for transfer to these semi-open/open institutions by evaluating their mental and physical fitness, behavioral conduct, potential for reform, etc.

Open prison facilities in India are divided into three kinds according to the Model Prison Manual[viii]:

1. Institutions offering semi-open training

2. Open Work Camps/Open Training Facilities

3. Open Colonies

These facilities are ranked according to the amount of freedom given to convicts and their likelihood of rehabilitation and reintegration into society. Each of these facilities has a well defined perimeter that convicts are not permitted to cross.

Semi-Open Training Institutions are typically connected to closed prisons just beyond the perimeter fence and are comparatively more closely watched by security personnel. Those inmates who exhibit reformation potential are then qualified for further transfer to colonies and open prisons. In places where it is possible to organize tasks like digging canals, water channels, building dams, roads, government buildings, and prison buildings, as well as projects of land reclamation, land development, and bringing uncultivated land under cultivation, soil conservation and afforestation, open training institutions/work camps are started. Inmates are permitted to bring family members to Open Colonies. The opportunity to work in agricultural or related sectors, cottage industries, or other complementary adequate sources of living is provided to prisoners and their family members. Inmates' and family members' pay are equal to those earned outside. With the money they make in the prison, the convicts are expected to support themselves and their families.

The very minimum requirements for accommodations, furnishings, sanitation, cleanliness, medical services, nutrition, and welfare services are maintained, as specified for the closed institutions. Compared to the closed jails, these facilities pay more in wages. Inmates of these open institutions are given additional benefits including remission, leave, and evaluations. The convicts are not subject to any limitations on reading materials and are free to attend open institutions to further their education. A training programme for prisoners is planned, and facilities for culture and employment are also offered.


It is important to examine how some of India's effective open jails operate in order to understand the value of open prisons as a corrective approach for the treatment of criminals.


On the outskirts of Anantapur, a 1,427-acre open prison complex can be found. Inmates from closed prisons may be transferred to open prisons based on their good behavior and successful completion of two-thirds of their term. It is based on the assumption that they won't escape. The perennial crop is grown by the inmates, who sell the dried herb to businesses for a fair price. The multinational pharmaceutical company assists with the seeds, packing, and delivery of the dried herbs.


This open jail accommodates murderers without bars or gates on over 300 acres in the Western Ghats Mountains. The guards are not armed. The pleasant and relaxing atmosphere is as much a source of pleasure as it is of surprise. Convicts begin their sentences in closed facilities, and those who behave well are moved to open facilities. The offenders tap rubber, make rubber sheets, or grow rice on the prison's 200-acre rubber plantation. Every prisoner works four to six hours every day and receives pay. The proceeds from the sale of rubber more than pay the annual costs of operating the jail, and any surplus is given to the Kerala state government.


Convicts are let to reside with their family in an open camp, which is around 25 miles from Jaipur and covers four hectares. About 150 convicts, including 10 women, are housed in the camp, which has a low surrounding wall. There are just two guards on duty. Convicts construct their own homes and pay for utilities like power and water. Within a 10-km radius, they are permitted to leave for work between 6 am and 7 pm. Their kids go to local schools. Prisoners work in a broad range of occupations; some are teachers at nearby schools, while others are laborers and daily wage workers.


The Supreme Court of India has established the parameters of the inmates' rights and privileges in a large number of rulings, which must be taken into account when handling different elements of jail administration. The following three concepts concisely summarize the same.

The following three concepts[ix]concisely summarize the same.

(i) A person who is imprisoned does not cease to exist.

(ii) Within the confines of imprisonment, a prisoner is entitled to all human rights.

(iii) It is not justified to make the misery that comes with imprisonment more worse.

Open prisons may be a game-changer during public health situations like the breakout of epidemic illnesses, such to the COVID-19 pandemic that we experienced. Indian jails, as said, are horribly overcrowded and severely understaffed. A pandemic cannot penetrate jails despite tall prison barriers. The idea that because prisons are isolated settings there is little risk of a viral epidemic occurring there is false[x]. Hundreds of prison employees and convicts enter and exit jails every day, increasing the danger of spreading disease to the broader populace. [xi]Prisoners may be given special emergency parole under following circumstances. It is also suitable to transfer convicts to an open prison.

If the most recent Prison Statistics of India Report, 2018[xii] is to be believed, the expectations for the effective implementation of the concept of open correctional institutions equally across the states have been moderated. According to the study, just 17 jails were operating as of December 31, 2018, among all states and union territories. Out of the 77 open jails in India, Rajasthan has 31. The percentage of occupancy that is highest is in West Bengal (114.53%), while the rate that is lowest is in Andhra Pradesh (15.33%). Only Kerala and Maharashtra have built facilities that can accommodate female convicts in open jails. Maharashtra has the most prisoners per open jail while having fewer open prisons overall.


Even though the Indian states have established various investigation and reform committees since independence, they have nonetheless lacked the political will to take the changes through to completion. This could be as a result of the general public's disregard for the situation of inmates, who are frequently viewed as criminals unable to undergo moral and social change.

A significant obstacle to the development and administration of open prisons is the lack of standardization among governments. Lack of legislative initiative is frequently cited as the reason why the federal government is unable to guarantee uniform standards and changes in jail management throughout the states. Prisons and related topics are under the purview of the legislative branch. The existence of enormous areas of land around closed prisons that may operate as natural perimeters within which convicts are compelled to participate in a variety of activities for survival is essential to the success of the open prison idea. Due of the increasing land shortage in India presently, this is rather challenging. Any attempts at rehabilitation through open prisons are thwarted by the stigma linked to criminals since society is still skeptical of any real change in criminals or ex-offenders and is unwilling to employ them in useful jobs or participate in social interactions with them. An example of trust between the government apparatus and the prisoners is an open jail. The main concern, however, is whether this trust also develops between society and the prisoners. According to Article 253[xiii], which gives the union the authority to create laws to carry out international accords, the centre is free to propose a legislation to remedy the lack of uniformity across states in the creation and administration of open prisons


According to the reformatory conception of justice, a criminal should have their hazardous degeneracy removed and should be given the opportunity to start over. In order for them to truly be free, they must be made accountable for the wrongs they have done not just to other people but also to themselves. Retributive and punitive modes of punishment are blatantly regarded as being unsuitable for ensuring access to justice, and the present penal system cries out for a community-led reform approach. As a peno-correctional institution, open prisons are preferable to more traditional types of detention and provide a comprehensive approach to ensuring the reintegration of convicts after their release. Law must change to keep up with life, and justice reacts to humanism.[xiv]

[i]“Chakraburtty, Smita (2015): “Prisons Of Bihar: Status Report-2015,” Bihar State Legal Services Authority, Http://Bslsa.Bih.Nic.In/Prision-Report/Bihar-Prison-Report.Pdf.” [ii] UNODC (2010): “United Nations Congresses On Crime Prevention And Criminal Justice 1955–2010: 55 Years Of Achievement,” United Nations Office On Drugs And Crime, Https://Www.Un.Org/En/Conf/Crimecongress2010/Pdf/55years_Ebook.Pdf.” [iii]Ramamurthy v State of Karnataka (1997): SCC, SC, 2, p 659” [iv]“ Vibhute, Khushal I (2015): “Open Peno-Correctional Intuitions In India, A Review Of The Fifty-Five Years, Experience And Expectations,” Max Planck Institute For Foreign And International Criminal Law, Freiburg.” [v]“NCRB (2018a): “Prison Statistics Of India, 2018,” Pp 20, National Crime Records Bureau, Https://Ncrb.Gov.In/Sites/Default/Files/Psi_Table_And_Chapter_Report/TABLE-1.2_1.Pdf.” [vi] “Dharmbir V State Of Uttar Pradesh (1979): SCC, SC, 3, P 645”. [vii] “Paranjpe, N V (2001): Criminology And Penology: Central Law Publications.” [viii] “BPR And D (2003): “Model Prison Manual For The Superintendence And Management Of Prisons In India,” Ch XXI, Bureau Of Police Research And Development, Http://Bprd.Nic.In/Writereaddata/Userfiles/File/5230647148Model%20Prison%20Manual.Pdf.” [ix] “BPR And D (2003): “Model Prison Manual For The Superintendence And Management Of Prisons In India,” Ch XXI, Bureau Of Police Research And Development, Http://Bprd.Nic.In/Writereaddata/Userfiles/File/5230647148Model%20Prison%20Manual.Pdf.” [x]“Chakraburtty, Smita (2015): “Prisons Of Bihar: Status Report-2015,” Bihar State Legal Services Authority, Http://Bslsa.Bih.Nic.In/Prision-Report/Bihar-Prison-Report.Pdf.” [xi]“ Chakraburtty, Smita (2020): “Unsafe Behind Bars,” The Telegraph, 5 April,” [xii] Supra [xiii] The Constitution of India- Article 253. [xiv] “Iyer Krishna, J (1978): “Death Sentence On Death Sentence,” The Indian Advocate: Vol. XVIIIII: 28: Jan–June.”


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