Himachal jail reforms: Technology helps prisons open up

 Prisons in Himachal Pradesh are no bar for the inmates wanting to keep in touch with their families and friends, even across borders and seas. A video-conferencing facility, perhaps the first in Indian prisons, is bringing them face to face with the outer world.

IANS| Last Updated: Jan 04, 2015, 16:46 PM IST

Shimla: Prisons in Himachal Pradesh are no bar for the inmates wanting to keep in touch with their families and friends, even across borders and seas. A video-conferencing facility, perhaps the first in Indian prisons, is bringing them face to face with the outer world.

For one of the prisoners it's the only link to get in touch with his daughter, who is settled abroad, while for another this free facility helped save their families' time and money.

Interestingly, one of the prisoners met his daughter for the first time since her birth through video conferencing.

"In the past one-and-a-half years, about 1,100 video-conferencing requests were received, of which 55 were from Britain and 22 from Finland, besides requests from several other countries (since many of the prisoners are foreigners)," Additional Director General of Police (Prisons) SR Mardi told IANS.

He said more than one visitor or relative could interact comfortably from their house with the inmate though the 'Jail Vaarta' or prison talk web portal.

According to Mardi, the video chat facility is available at www.hpprisons.nic.in in all the state's six prisons.

"I feel much mentally relieved after using this facility," inmate Amit Sharma wrote in his feedback to prison authorities.

In fact, he said, it was through video-conferencing that he saw his daughter for the first time since her birth.

Another prisoner, Chande Ram wrote that this was the only mode to get in touch with his daughter, who is settled abroad.

"By using this facility, my parents managed to save money that was earlier spent on their monthly visit to the jail. This also helped restoring their financial status," said prisoner Gaurav Verma.

Jail officials say a Russian prisoner regularly chats with his wife and gets to see his new-born son through video-conferencing.

The facility also allows parole hearings and the examination of both accused and complainants without the transportation costs, Mardi said. Even immigration hearings for prisoners are done through video-conferencing.

Jail officials said there are 105 prisoners from eight countries in the state's various jails. Of them, 88 are from neighbouring Nepal, while the remaining 17 are mainly from Britain, Russia, Turkey, Israel and Nigeria.

Of the 17 inmates, seven have been convicted and the rest are facing trial. A majority of them have been booked under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS).

The lure of drugs and quick bucks is attracting more foreigners to the higher reaches and largely unexplored areas, especially in the picturesque Kullu Valley, where they have become part of poppy-growing and black gold smuggling, police say.

Mardi said through video-conferencing, there is no chance of contraband and illegal items being passed on to the prisoners. He said even the investigating officers could question undertrial prisoners through this facility.

The Jail Vaarta project of the state was awarded 'The Manthan - South Asia and Asia Pacific Award 2014' under the e-governance category in New Delhi last month. The state has already taken many initiatives to reform its prisons. It has declared one barrack as an "open air jail" in Kanda, Nahan, Solan, Mandi, Dharamsala and Chamba towns.

These jails allow prisoners to go out and earn their livelihood after serving a stipulated term.

In the Republic Day parade here Jan 26, 13 prisoners from two open jails marched for the first time as a band contingent. Donning a white outfit with a striped waistband, the band was the main attraction at the parade, where Governor Urmila Singh took the salute.