Open jails are based on reformative theory of justice and punishment, as opposed
to retributive theory, and advocates turning criminals into law-abiding citizens
without restricting them. This position emphasizes that a person is sent to
prison as punishment and not for punishment.
In an effort to democratize and decolonize the country's prisons, researchers
and activists have called for permanent prison reforms and have repeatedly
floated the idea of open or semi-open prisons. However, progress in this area
has remained delayed, resulting in poor conditions for prisoners in Indian
Though they keep prisoners under control, open jails are prisons without high
walls, barbed wire fences or armed guards and are regulated spaces in spite of
having less strict rules as compared to traditional closed jails.
Open jails have been defined as "jails without walls, bars and locks" which
basically rely on inmate self-discipline, by the Rajasthan State Prison Rules.
Many open prisons even allow inmates to live with their families and earn a
In West Bengal, the Open Jails are open in the truest sense of the word as the
inmates have complete freedom of movement since there is no system of daily
lock-up. The gates open at 06:00 hours in the morning and the night lock up is
at 20:00 hours. From 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. daily, inmates are free to go where
they want and can practice any occupation inside or outside the jail. However,
they must return to the jail within 20:00 hours.
In 1996, the Supreme Court in the case of Rama Murthy v. State of Karnataka
defended the need for open prisons. The Apex Court ordered the establishment of
"more and more open jails", starting with the country's district headquarters.
The court also took note of the management problems that would come with open
prisons, but observed that they are not insurmountable in light of the greater
good these prisons can provide.
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) advocated the need for open prisons
and how they could solve prison overcrowding in several of its annual reports
from 1994-95 and 2000-01. The All India Prison Reforms Committee in 1980
recommended the establishment of open prisons in every state and union
Eligibility for Residing in Open Jails
According to the Rajasthan Prisoners' Open Air Camp Rules of 1972, the prisoners
eligible to shift to open jails should have completed one third of their
sentences. To transfer prisoners from closed jails to open jails, where they are
allowed to live with family members and earn their livelihoods inmates of
central and district jails with a track record of good conduct are regularly
In West Bengal a committee consisting of jail and police officials is
formed by the head of the state prisons' department to choose prisoners eligible
for shifting to open jails who recommend the names of the prisoners fit for
shifting to the open prisons after their personal interview and checking their
track records excluding prisoners who come under the barred sections of law,
after first getting a report from the officer in charge of the correctional
In West Bengal jails/prisons are called correctional homes. The prisoners
living in open jails are directed to find employment within a distance of 20
kilometers from the open jail so that they can return to the jail at night
daily. They are also granted parole of 20 days after 6 months. They are provided
food within the open prisons for the next three months after they shift to the
open correctional homes and after that the prisoners have to make their own food
Open prisons are not a new concept and have been part of justice systems around
the world for centuries. In the early 19th century, prisons were opened in the
United States for prisoners nearing the end of their terms. Often these
prisoners were sent to work as laborers to evaluate their behavior. Even in the
United Kingdom, open prisons were common from the 1930s.
In the West the first semi-open prison called the 'Witzwill' was established in
Switzerland in 1891. However, in modern sense the first open prison called New
Hall Camp was set up in the United Kingdom in 1936 and in USA around 1940.
The need to incorporate open prison systems was first widely discussed by the
global community at the United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and
the Treatment of Offenders held in Geneva in 1955.
More recently in 2015, the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted the UN
Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, also known as the Nelson
Mandela Rules, which laid down the objectives of open prisons. The rules stated
that such a system could help rehabilitate carefully selected prisoners who
chances of escape were low. They also established the prisoners' right to
employment and the right to maintain contact with the outside world.
Open Jails in India
In India in Bombay Presidency the first open jail was started in 1905. The
prisoners were selected from the Special Class inmates of the Thane Central Jail
in Mumbai. However, this open prison was closed in 1910. For the construction of
a dam over the river Chandraprabha near Banaras, in 1953 the first open jail was
established. The prisoners were transferred to the nearby site after the
completion of this dam for construction of a dam over the river Karamnasa.
permanent camp was started at Mirzapur on 15 March 1956 to employ prisoners to
work in quarrying stones for the Uttar Pradesh Government Cement Works at Churk,
Mirzapur after getting encouraged by the success of these temporary camps. The
initial number of prisoners in this camp was 150, which increased to 1,700 but
fell down subsequently.
Another permanent camp called Sampurnanad Shivir was
established in 1960 at Sitarganj in Nainital district of Uttarakhand. The
Sampurnanand camp had 5,965 acres of land at the time of its establishment but
for rehabilitating displaced persons 2,000 acres of land was reclaimed by the
Uttar Pradesh government. Sitarganj is one of the largest open prisons in the
world and at present spread over 3,837 acres of land.
In addition, in line with worldwide calls for prison reforms, the All India
Prison Reforms Committee in 1980 also recommended the government to establish
and develop open prisons in every state and union territory.
The most prominent case study of an open prison in India is the case study of
Sanganer Jail in Jaipur, Rajasthan, which was established in 1954 and
accommodates 450 convicts at present, who live with their families and earn a
living. Unlike some other open jails in the country, it allows people to go to
work in Sanganer. Sanganer's setting ensures that people can experience
community life and reintegrate into society without facing hardship or stigma.
The first open prison for women was set up in Gerwada, Pune in 2010 and in South
India the first such prison was established in Poojappura, Kerala in 2012.
Tamil Nadu Law Ministry has also floated the idea of setting up open prisons
in the state for women convicts after a 2017 Supreme Court order asked state
governments to examine the feasibility of setting up open prisons across the
The Constitution of India primarily guarantees the fundamental right of every
citizen to a dignified life under Article 21 of the Constitution. In addition,
Article 39A under the Directive Principles of State Policy mandates the State to
ensure the effective administration of justice.
It is instructive to note that the RSLSA (Rajasthan State Legal Services
Authority) study on open prisons recommends that the practice be expanded to
include under-trial prisoners in addition to convicts, due to its many benefits.
It has recommended to open in each district of the country at least two open
prisons. The study further calls for the scheme to include "low-risk prisoners",
or those who have shown no violent traits during their time in prison, such as
under-trials and accused persons who have surrendered at court or a police
station and courted imprisonment.
Open Jails in West Bengal
In West Bengal Open Jail is called Open Air Correctional Home. Open Jails in
West Bengal are located at Lalgola, Durgapur, Midnapore and Raiganj. Out of
these four open air correctional homes, Lalgola is the most spacious and has
cottage facilities for 20 prisoners to live with their families.
The other open
jails don't have such facility. Although Lalgola Open Air Correctional Home has
the status of a District Correctional Home, the superintendent of the Lalgola
Open Air Correctional Home holds the rank of the superintendent of a Central
Correctional Home, which indicates the importance attached to this institution.
Prisoners can get engaged in any occupation according to their choice, take up
any employment and engage in any legal trade in an open-air correctional home.
The administration, with the help of Government Institutions and NGOs like Don Bosco Prison Ministry and Ramakrishna Mission Ashram, Malda, helped them find
employment while they were still in custody. Since they can go anywhere, they
want from 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. their imprisonment does not prevent them from
being employed. Some prisoners were also allowed to buy goats and cows with
their own money for business and to sell the milk to the public. All the profit
goes to them. Some of them operate small scale cottage industry in family
cottages where they live with family members. In addition, they are trained in
various trades such as repairing television sets, motor mechanisms, motor
They are trained in various trades like wiring, motor pump repair,
tailoring, gardening etc. They can participate in local fairs and collect orders
for their products. Lalgola Open Air Correctional Home was established in 1987
at Lalgola, a town along Indo-Bangladesh border in Murshidabad district, about
260 km away from Kolkata. With a large mango grove with about 1000 mango trees
and a pond, it is situated on 100 acres of land.
The land and place where the
present correctional facility is located were donated by the royal family of Lalgola. Here in Lalgola, 20 prisoners can live with their families in the
campus in cottages, though it has capacity of accommodating 100 prisoners. The
state government has put into practice a unique experiment of reformation theory
through this effort. However, at present such activities in Lalgola Open Air
Correctional Home have slowed down a bit.
Advantages of Open Jails
- The expenditure incurred on prisoners in open jails reduces drastically as compared to the expenditure incurred in respect of the prisoners lodged in closed jails i.e., the operational cost of the jail reduces.
- It helps in reducing overcrowding in jails.
- It improves the psychological and mental health of the prisoners.
- The staff required for manning open prisons is 90% less than those deployed in closed prisons.
- It promotes a reformative form of punishment and succeeds in transforming the lives of inmates.
- It serves the societal objective of penal sentencing.
- It helps in successful integration of the prisoners into society upon their release.
- There are lesser chances of recidivism in the prisoners.
- The prisoners are encouraged to find employment.
- Socialization and interaction of the prisoners with the outside world increases.
- The prisoners can live with their families if family cottage is provided in the open jail like in Lalgola Open Jail in Murshidabad district of West Bengal, where there is provision of 20 family cottages.
- If humane conditions are provided in the open jail, convicts will seldom flee as minimum restraint often promotes discipline and gives them a sense of self worth.
- Researchers say that open jails offer more humane and equitable means of justice delivery.
- It is a humane substitute for the prison cell.
- Open prisons actively encourage prison visits in initial stages and even allow families to stay with prisoners and together earn livelihood.
- Open prisons are reminiscent of the Gandhian Ashrams where the emphasis is on shared communal living on cooperative basis along with efforts for development of moral character, which in turn has great reformatory potential.
- Having been neglected by their families, old age prisoners find it difficult to fend for them upon release as they get accustomed to a life in prison, dependent on care by fellow inmates. Open jails can help in bringing these prisoners back to normal life.
- In Dharmbir v. State of Uttar Pradesh (1979), the apex court observed that open prisons have certain advantages in protecting young offender from several vices which grip them in closed jails.
- In Ramamurthy v. State of Karnataka (1997), the Supreme Court had explicitly observed that open prisons represent one of the most successful applications of the principle of individualization of penalties with a view to social readjustment.
- According to Vibhute (2015), vocational activities of prisoners in open prisons not only provide opportunities to engage in productive activities during their sentence but also make them learn skills that enable them to pursue vocations after release. Further, inmates remain mentally busy in open prisons by gainful work thereby keeping them away from engaging in crime once again. It also goes a long way in developing a receptive and respectful approach to society for prisoners.
- Open prisons offer prisoners a sense of purpose and a second chance at life. By reducing the stigma attached to prisoners, they create pathways for them to meaningfully reintegrate into society, gain employment and access public services.
- Open prisons benefit not only the inmates, but all participants in the ecosystem. Survivors of crimes are also better positioned to achieve closure and recovery from harm, knowing that the perpetrator of the crime against them has transformed and is now making a significant contribution to society.
- Open prisons provide an opportunity for prison officials to exercise their authority to improve the condition of prisoners as agents of change.
- Open prisons are considered a remedial and progressive correctional facility that allows convicts to maintain contact with the mainstream so that they do not become sociopaths by the time they are released.
- It controls criminalization by separating the newcomers from the habitual criminal.
- It creates a sense of self-respect, freedom, and discipline among the prisoners.
- Prisoners learn avocations which can help them rebuild their lives upon release.
- It reduces idleness and keeps prisoners physically and mentally fit.
- It prevents frustration and creates hope in long-termers.
- Prisoners with good behavior are rewarded.
- It gives training in self-reliance.
- It helps in examining the suitability of releasing the offenders from prisons.
Problems in Setting Up Open Jails:
- It has been found in some studies that some prisoners who were shifted to open prisons refused to vacate their premises even after completion of their sentence term as they had become dependent on the space provided by the open prison for their daily livelihood and accommodation.
- Additionally, many states have failed to enact laws to establish open prisons despite the apex court's directives. In fact, no union territory presently has an open prison. Even the ones that have been established and are operational have remained underutilized due to poor levels of awareness and acceptability. It is also reported that the number of prisoners in open jails is much less than their prisoners' holding capacity.
- One key concern with open prison systems at present pertains to the process of selection of criminals who can be lodged in such jails alleging lack of transparency in the selection process.
- Another significant loophole in legislation does not permit under trial prisoners to be considered for open jails. The colonial government designed The Prisoners Act of 1894, which mostly governs prison management in India, has become outdated and unfit for managing prisoners in free India.
- There is no open jail for female prisoners in many states.
- Under-trial prisoners are not allowed to live in open jails.
- Open Jails require large space for its operation, but there is paucity of land for setting up new open prisons.
- There is a lack of administrative will towards opening more numbers of open jails.
- The fund required for modernization and infrastructural improvement of jails is too low to meet up new challenges.
- There is difficulty in finding employment in the vicinity of open jails as most of them are located in the interior areas.
- Regular meetings of the committee are not held for selection of prisoners eligible to stay in open jails.
- There are so many barred sections which prevent transfer of prisoners to open jail.
- There is paucity of family cottage in open jails as a result most of the prisoners have to remain alone in open jails.
- The vacancy of staff in closed jails is too much to spare personnel for manning open jails.
- There are no specific cooking arrangements for the prisoners to cook food for themselves in the open jails.
- The supply of food to the prisoners is stopped three months after their entry into open jails.
- There is no special guest room in open prisons for the interaction of the prisoners with their families in course of their visit.
- Eligibility criteria for open jails should be made less stringent in all states as suggested by Supreme Court judge Justice Pankaj Mithal (when he was Chief Justice of Rajasthan High Court) and should be widened to include a larger population, with equal opportunities for men, women and transgender prisoners.
- Some studies suggest that it doesn't prevent recidivism.
- There are allegations of bias, corruption and outside influence in selection of prisoners for shifting from closed prisons to open prisons.
- Moralists and retributists are against soft treatment of offenders.
- The elements of security, monotony and discipline are visible in the management of open prisons.
Efforts in Establishing Open Jails
The Ministry of Home Affairs had convened a meeting of DG/IG Prisons of all
States and UTs on 13.2.2018 to examine the feasibility of setting up open
prisons in their jurisdictions. The Ministry of Home Affairs had also requested
a written response from all states and UTs. Based on the responses received from
the States and UTs, it is noted that the States and UTs generally agreed with
the proposal to establish open jails in their jurisdictions and were of the view
that the concept of open jails is a good reform effort and a step in the right
The Rajasthan State Legal Services Authority (RSLSA) arranged an in-depth study
of the open prison system in their state by an independent researcher
specializing in prison studies and published a report on open prisons. The
conclusions of the RSLSA report on open prisons were discussed at the DG/IG
Prisons meeting held on 13.02.2018. The Ministry of Home Affairs has shared this
report with all states and UTs for their guidance in setting up open jails in
Among other things, the report states that the establishment of open prisons
leads to a reduction in prison overcrowding.
In the Model Prison Manual 2016 shared with all states and UTs, there is a
dedicated chapter on 'Open Institutions' which provides detailed guidelines to
states for setting up open prisons. States and UTs have been informed that
shifting prisoners to open jails restores the dignity of an individual and
develops in him self-reliance, self-confidence and social responsibility which
are necessary for his rehabilitation in society. States have also received
instructions regarding the provisions to be followed for the establishment and
management of such open institutions.
The Ministry of Home Affairs provides regular guidance to States and Union
Territories regarding the safety, security and welfare of prisoners through
various advisories issued from time to time. In the form of recommendations
issued to States and UTs various other aspects of prison reforms and best
practices were also shared. These recommendations are available on the website
of the Ministry of Home Affairs.
States and UTs have been advised to organize special training courses to bring
about an attitudinal change in the behavior of prison officials in dealing with
prisoners to ensure that prisoners are not subjected to any torture or cruelty.
States were also advised to fill existing vacancies of all categories of prison
staff through special recruitment drives, including counselors, psychiatrists,
social workers, etc., to alleviate the anxiety of prisoners and provide them
with better care.
States have been advised to set up CCTV cameras at suitable locations in prisons
for better surveillance and monitoring. They were also advised to develop a
system where NGOs with relevant expertise can work with the prison authorities
on the welfare of prisoners.
States and UTs have been advised to ensure regular supervision of prisons
through internal inspection by prison authorities and external inspection by
Board of Visitors, Human Rights Commissions and Legal Aid Bodies etc. to ensure
welfare of prisoners. The Ministry of Home Affairs also shared the Nelson
Mandela Rules - the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners
with all States and UTs and advised them to have the rules translated into the
local language and disseminate the guidelines contained therein to all prison
officials to ensure that the officers concerned observe these rules when dealing
In November 2017 and in February 2018, the Ministry of Home Affairs convened
meetings of the DG/IG of prisons of all states and UTs to discuss various issues
related to prison reforms with state representatives. To bring about a positive
change in the functioning of prison administration leading to the welfare and
well-being of inmates, the DG/IG Prisons were asked to share best practices in
their prisons which can be replicated in other states/UTs.
NCRB Report on Open Jails
As on 31st December 2021, 49 male convicts were lodged in open jails in west
Bengal. In India, 2153 convicts consisting of 2094 male and 59 female convicts
were accommodated in 88 open jails throughout India. 22 male under-trial
prisoners and 3 female under-trial prisoners totaling 25 under-trial prisoners
were kept in open jails. Jharkhand was the only state which had kept 25
under-trial prisoners in open Jail.
There was no open jail in Delhi, A & N
Islands, Chandigarh, Jammu & Kashmir, Ladakh, Lakshadweep, Dadra & Nagar Haveli
& Daman Diu. The maximum number of convicts in open jails were in Rajasthan
(1040) followed by Kerala (242) and Maharashtra (142).
Inmates in open prisons should be given tailored tools and resources to reform
and become the best they can be. Some states have made laws denying the
opportunity of availing the facilities of open jails for women. As for example,
the Assam (Supplementary Provisions) Rules on the Superintendence and Management
of Jails, 1968 continue to deny women prisoners the option of being transferred
to open jails. In fact, in December 2017, the Supreme Court of India asked
states to set up an open jail in every district.
On the basis of a detailed
report that was submitted to the Supreme Court in 2017 regarding the success of Rajasthan's Open Prisons System, this direction was given. However, this
direction has not yet been implemented; the occupancy of open prisons is a
dismal 49.5 percent, while overcrowding in many closed prisons remains a
In fact, we need to move away from the colonial concept of
prisons, both architecturally and in terms of content, to a rehabilitative,
community-based open prison approach where incarcerated people are treated with
dignity. In India, many prisons continue to operate under antiquated legislation
that was introduced by the British - the Prisons Act of 1894 - in line with
colonial reliance on caste based and male-centric ideas.
Subsequently, it has
not been sufficiently changed to accommodate the experiences of women or
transgender prisoners, which differ significantly from those of their male
counterparts. Meanwhile, prison manuals in most states of India continue to
divide prison labour according to the caste of the inmates.
Written By: Md. Imran Wahab
- Question: Lok Sabha Unstarred Question No. 2932 Answered On The 13th March, 2018 (Open Jails)
, IPS, IGP, Provisioning, West Bengal
Email: [email protected]
, Ph no: 9836576565