Pune: A study by the Maharashtra State Commission for Women has found that there are 23 women prisoners languishing in State jails because they can’t afford bail surety. Three of them are lodged in Yerwada Women’s Jail in the city.
Commission Chairperson Vijaya Rahatkar revealed this to media persons after an inspection of the women’s jail on Saturday. She was accompanied by Special IGP (Prison HQ) VN Jadhav and Yerwada Central Jail Superintendent YC Pawar.
The team visited the jail for inspection of various aspects, including overcrowding, availability of legal help, rehabilitation plans including skill development and training, legal awareness and legal help for women inmates, proper facilities for children of these inmates, among others.
Some of the amenities available in the jail and the sensitivity to women has shown a marked improvement. A separate area was demarcated for lodging inmates who had small children and the inmates were happy with the quality of food provided. Rahatkar has asked the Jail Department to put a proposal before the commission to start a corpus fund to help those prisoners who are lodged in jail because they are not able to pay the bail amount.
“We will make available about Rs 1.5 crore, which will be sufficient. The (bail) amount is returned after a certain period,” she said.
Rahatkar added, “The women jails are overcrowded. There are 4,000 prisoners in 31 women’s jails across the State. In Pune, the women’s jail capacity is 126 but there are 289 inmates, including five Bangladeshis and one Indonesian. There is a proposal to construct a new barrack here. We have come to know that there is a shortage of staff who escort prisoners to courts. We will take up the matter with the concerned authorities, including the city police. But problems are faced in only some cases as most prisoners are produced before the court via video conferencing.”
Rahatkar said medical facilities, food quality and other basic requirements are satisfactory. “The commission, in association with Pune-based NGO Drishti, is conducting a study of women prisoners’ health issues. The study will be over in the next 3-4 months across all jails. I interacted with the doctors here. Except for two prisoners, who are suffering from life threatening disease, others have reported minor illnesses. With the help of telemedicine, most of the issues are diagnosed here itself.”
How can women prisoners lodge complaints?
Rahatkar said notice boards have been put up inside the prisons asking prisoners to lodge complaints with the commission if they face any issues. “There is a complaint box and its key is with the district judge, who visits the jail regularly. The women can complain to the judge or a commission member during inspection. When I interacted with them, the jail staff was not with me. Also, we expect the jail administration to forward letters written by prisoners to the commission if they have anything to say,” she added.
The notice boards were installed based on the recommendation of the special investigation team (SIT) of the commission, which was formed after the custodial death of a woman prisoner in Byculla Jail in June last year.
Transfer to open jails
The commission has suggested that to reduce overcrowding in jails, women prisoners should be transferred to open jails after spending five years (in serious cases) and three years (in minor cases) in closed jails.
Sanitary napkin vending machines in jails
Rahatkar said, “We have got permission to install a sanitary napkin vending machine and an incinerator in all 31 women’s jails in the State. This is a step towards better healthcare for prisoners.”