The punishments set out for convicted sex offenders in India have recently been reformed, largely in response to the ‘Nirbhaya’ case. The Justice Verma committee was set up to explore key issues surrounding women’s safety in the country. This was followed by the Criminal Law Amendment Ordinance 2013. One of the proposals was to increase prison terms for rapists to a minimum of seven years to life. However, the public and some politicians, including the Minister for Women and Child Development, have called for even harsher punishments, ranging from chemical castration to execution.
While some in India have called for the death penalty in rape cases, it is unlikely that there is national consensus. Many politicians have remained silent on the issue, with most Indian states supporting life imprisonment without parole. It should be noted that research indicates that there is no evidence to suggest that death penalty actually acts as an effective deterrent to rape. Similarly, chemical castration requires resources to effectively administer the complex and long-term individualised medical treatment involved which India’s medical sector may not be able to keep up with. According to the 2011 report of National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, Bangalore Central Prison was used as a case study to indicate how the criminal justice system is not able to confront the most basic of health issues.
A possible step forward would be to explore the option of sex offender treatment in programmes in prisons. Sex offender treatment programmes known as SOTPs are run in prisons all around the world.
A possible step forward would be to explore the option of sex offender treatment in programmes in prisons. Sex offender treatment programmes known as SOTPs are run in prisons all around the world. In order for a sexual offender to be released from jail, he must show that his risk of reoffending is at an acceptable level. One of the ways in which this can be achieved is to complete an accredited SOTP. The fundamental design of the SOTPs is based on cognitive behavioural therapy model. Research has shown success in the interventions designed for sex offenders that are directed towards modifying cognitive distortions, working on victim empathy, training in angermanagement and social skills. Treatment for sex offenders can be delivered using either group work or individual sessions. There are obvious benefits to group work as it is cost efficient interns of time and money as well as provides interaction with others that has been found to facilitate positive change.
According to American Psychological Association, many psychological interventions have helped reduce recidivism among convicted sex offenders. The aim of such interventions is to teach individuals new skills and life management techniques that can be employed on a daily basis. These skills and techniques help offenders to avoid reoffending both inside and outside prison. Though, it is not without criticism, it is still worth exploring since the most common belief in India is that rapists are monster who cannot change. India can look beyond its narrow approach of retributive justice to include other comprehensive solutions such as sex-offender treatment programmes and restorative justice approaches.
Associate Fellow of HEA and Academic Researcher at Anglia Ruskin University