HC wants prison rules to be revisited

In a significant order, the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court has asked the State to revisit the eligibility and non-eligibility rules for open prisons under the Tamil Nadu Prison Rules, 1983, in order to include women and the third gender as eligible for open prisons.

A Division Bench of Justices M.M. Sundresh and N. Sathish Kumar directed the Additional Director General of Police (Prisons) to revisit rule 796 (eligibility) and rule 797 (non-eligibility) of the State Prison Rules. Observing that there could not be any bias on the basis of gender, the court said it found no logic in the exclusion of women from the eligibility criteria.

It further said any classification of prisoners would directly hit equality before law guaranteed by the Constitution.

The court also refused to accept the submission of the Prisons department, which in its status report said women were excluded in view of safety and security. It said the main aim of establishing open prisons was to facilitate training for inmates in the field of agriculture/ horticulture.

As the strength of convicted women prisoners was limited and there was lack of space in the special prisons, establishing open prison for women would entail huge expenditure. Therefore, for rehabilitation, women prisoners were trained in tailoring, embroidery, tape making, twisted thread, bandage making and sanitary napkin making, it added.

The Bench directed the Prisons department to add to the eligibility list those placed under the non-eligibility list and that Rule 797 could be scrapped.

Asking the department to work towards achieving this end within 12 weeks, the court directed the registry to post the case thereafter.

The court was hearing a public interest litigation petition, seeking open prisons for women.

The petitioner, K.R. Raja of Madurai, said open air prisons were productive in not only reducing idleness, but also in keeping prisoners physically and mentally fit, thereby easing their integration with society. Advocate R. Alagumani, representing the petitioner, pointed out that States like Maharashtra, Delhi and Kerala had open prisons for women.

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