A second chance

Editorial Board
Monday, May 20, 2024

In the theory of rehabilitative justice, jails are supposed to be rehabilitation centres where first-time offenders should ideally be trained to respect the law and become productive citizens of their country. This is particularly so in the case of children. Unfortunately, in our very flawed justice and jail system, even children are seen as hardened criminals if they are found to be guilty of any crime. Given this, it is heartening to note that the Punjab government has taken a step in the right direction to provide some facilities to incarcerated children. The Punjab Home Department has issued a list of SOPs to the IG Prisons, stressing the need for revamping borstal institutions (juvenile detention centres) to give children a second chance at life. According to data released in 2022, 43 jails of Punjab hold 590 children; only 119 are convicted while the rest are on trial. The provincial government wants prison authorities to operate borstal institutions like boarding schools.

The SOPs call for the authorities to provide beds/cots and a table and a chair to imprisoned children. Other instructions include setting up a well-equipped central library, allowing children to have their school bags and other reading materials with them, ensuring that children read for an hour before going to bed, and painting the walls of these centres with bright colours. Children demonstrating any mental health problem should be supervised by trained psychologists. At present, Punjab does not have an adequate number of detention centres for minors. Resultantly, they stay with repeat offenders and adults and miss out on a chance to redeem their lives. Trained psychologists in these centres can provide the counselling these children need to lead a disciplined life. It is rather disappointing that our society rarely talks about the rights of prisoners.

Several surveys and news programmes carried out by private outlets show that many children have to face false charges. A child involved in a road accident, for example, is charged with terrorism. Or a child involved in mobile snatching is implicated in a drug case. For children from low-income families, these complexities make matters worse. Their financial constraints mean they remain stuck behind bars for a long time. Children need to be disciplined, but they should also be given a chance to improve themselves and that can only be done when children have access to a team of trained people who can help them rehabilitate and become highly productive citizens of the country.