Study finds Haryana jails overcrowded, flags problems faced by women inmates

Chandigarh, Aug 24 (PTI) A study has found that 11 of the 19 prisons in Haryana are overcrowded, with the Rewari district jail coping with nearly twice the number of inmates it should hold. The study by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) under the aegis of Haryana State Legal Services Authority (HALSA) also flagged problems faced by women prisoners, including "humiliation" during search operations. However, it made clear the state's prisons were not the "dingy, dirty and dilapidated hell-holes". It found basic infrastructure, maintenance and cleanliness in place. The study, "Inside Haryana Prisons", found that overcrowding ranged from 22.8 per cent in the Panipat jail to 170 per cent in the Rewari prison. The team interviewed 475 prisoners, representatives of legal services institutions and prison officials between December 2017 and May 2018 for the study. Ninety-three of the prisoners interviewed were women, 192 undertrials, 122 male convicts, 39 juveniles and 29 foreign nationals. The state has 19,000 inmates in 19 jails, including three central prisons one in Ambala and two in Hisar. The other 16 are district jails. The team inspected all of them. It found overcrowding at Ambala and Hisar (I), Rewari, Kurukshetra, Kaithal, Sirsa, Jind, Panipat, Narnaul and Bhiwani prisons. The study said there were no guidelines in place to safeguard the dignity of prisoners during body searches. In one of the prisons, some women inmates told the team about their discomfort during surprise checks conducted to seize contraband and mobile phones. It said prisoners from the Gurugram jail complained to the team about the "humiliation" they suffered during one such operation. "They said in November 2017, they were strip searched by women constables in a humiliating and harsh manner as part of an operation for the recovery of mobile phones and contraband." "Several women cry a lot after such a humiliation," an inmate told the team. The team found staff shortages. According to the data from 18 jails, there was an overall vacancy of 20 per cent against 3,193 sanctioned posts. There is no exclusive prison for women in Haryana. Of the 19 prisons, only 15 had women enclosures with 659 women inmates lodged there as of December 2017. Their wards, toilets and and barracks were found to be clean and spacious, but there was no permanent woman doctor in any of the prisons. The women largely depended on medical examination by male doctors, with whom they were not always comfortable, especially with regard to reproductive or menstrual health issues. Except the Karnal district jail, all jails provided sanitary napkins to women. "In the Karnal jail, women had to buy sanitary pads from the canteen," the study said. Visitors who do not have Aadhaar cards cannot meet their relatives lodged in jail as the card has been made mandatory for their identification, the study said. Consular access to foreign nationals is also an issue. The report said of the 48 foreign nationals in 10 prisons who are predominantly from Bangladesh, Nepal and African countries, only six were provided with consular access. Only 20 in five jails were in contact with their families. "Despite the prison inmate calling system (PICS), they are not permitted to make international calls to their relatives," it said. Some of the foreign nationals also complained of discrimination and racism at the hands of other prisoners. On a positive note, it found, "Prisons are not the dingy, dirty, dilapidated hell-holes that one might visualise them to be." "The team found sound infrastructure, regular maintenance and basic cleanliness almost everywhere. They also found no complaints of sub-standard conditions or unhygienic food during our interactions with the prisoners," the study said. "Infrastructure in all jails was adequate with no dilapidated or ill-maintained buildings found during the inspections. However, we did find deficiencies in the management structure within these buildings,"it said. PTI SUN VSD RDKRDK