The efforts put in by prisons in Delhi, especially Tihar Jail, Asia’s largest prison, to make inmates embrace education—even higher education—have started to pay off. According to latest data released by Tihar Jail, 903 inmates have enrolled for higher education courses at the Tihar Study Centre, which is the highest ever since 1994. The 25 graduation and post-graduation degrees that are awarded by the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) can be availed by any inmate living inside the jail who wishes to study while serving time.
Apart from access to college education, Tihar’s “Padho aur Padhao” scheme, which allows prisoners to complete their school education, has also witnessed a larger number of enrolments.
Of the 15,207 prison inmates serving time in 14 jails of Delhi, 2,269 inmates registered for basic literacy examination under Saakshar Bharat programme as of 20 August this year. The highest number of learners was in Tihar’s Jail 1, with 1,190 inmates registering for the literacy examination. The examination helps inmates acquire a certificate that allows them to prove their basic literacy once they step out of prison after completing their sentence.
The number of prisoners passing the National Literacy Mission Authority (NLMA)-NIOS examinations is impressive too. The National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) conducts examinations twice a year. Since 2011, 14 rounds of tests have been conducted for Delhi prison inmates. In 2011, the number of inmates who registered for the tests was 1,896, but only 1,725 appeared for the tests and 1,495 passed the exams. Since 2011, the highest number of inmates who passed the NIOS exam was in 2014, with 1,984 inmates registering for the examinations. Only 1,925 inmates appeared for the examinations and 1,724 passed it. In the most recent round of examinations conducted in March this year, 1,841 inmates registered, while 1,737 appeared for the examinations and 1,680 passed. Since 2011, 11,317 inmates have cleared the NIOS examinations.
Other than mainstream education, identifying the need for primary guidance that people who have committed crimes require, Tihar Jail has also started a “Better Life Pre-school” where inmates can acquire functional literacy. They can learn life skills including gender sensitisation, conflict resolution etc., and can also learn skills to become self-reliant and get employed. The pre-school also works on drug de-addiction and healthcare.
Mohit Raj, lead co-ordinator of Turn Your Action Into Concern, the NGO that runs the “Better Life Pre-school” in Tihar Jail, said, “We primarily work with people between the ages of 18-21. Most of the undertrials have been exposed to one or the other kind of substance abuse which is why drug de-addiction plays a key role.
Since 2011, the highest number of inmates who passed the NIOS exam was in 2014, with 1,984 inmates registering for the examinations. Only 1,925 inmates appeared for the examination and 1,724 passed it. In the most recent round of examinations conducted in March this year, 1,841 inmates registered, while 1,737 appeared for the examinations.
Along with that, imparting life skills helps inmates undergo major transformation. Most of them do not understand why rape is called rape. They do not understand why the law calls them a criminal because their understanding of gender is not how we understand gender. For them not establishing sexual relations with a minor is news. In some cases, people get convicted because of circumstances, not intentionally.”
Sudheer Yadav, Director General of Prison, IPS, told The Sunday Guardian, “This is a whole process that takes a lot of time. Right now, 70% of inmates in Tihar are undertrials. We do not know whether the court will convict them or not, but since cases take a lot of time to conclude, undertrials end up spending a lot of time here which is why it becomes important to pay attention to their reformation because if a court does acquit them, then at least they will know that they do not necessarily have to commit crimes to sustain.”
As far as hardened criminals are concerned, they are kept in separate facilities with minimum exposure to the outside world. For them, reformation does not come easy and might never come, but we try to provide equal opportunity to all those who are willing to change.”
Speaking about suicides cases and mobile phones within the prison, Yadav said, “Suicides are rare. We try to maintain the best possible environment. Yes, several mobile phones were found on prisoners, but now with our strict frisking and security checks, it is not a rampant problem at all.”
Reflecting on the state of Indian prisons in general, Yadav said, “There are challenges like over-crowding, maintaining health facilities for prisoners etc., in jails across the country, but we are working to improve the situation. Here at Tihar, we try to change the way society perceives these people who live beyond the wall by allowing inmates to discover and showcase their creative side to the world. It is a work-in-progress and we have a long way to go.”