-Pramod Sapkota, Brisbane, Australia
Prisoner, custody and correction centres undoubtedly are not under the priority radar of current government in Nepal. Merely it has ever been debated in the house of representative to establish law and order in the country. No matter who raises the issues, not a single person has ever switched on the debate to manage the overcrowded prison population in Nepal. Should this issue be discussed? Should we have a private prison in operation or the public prisons are doing well?
Way far above the maximum capacity of prison in Nepal, approximately eighteen thousand individuals are recorded behind the bars for various civil offences and criminal conducts. These are among those who have been convicted by the court of law. Those who are remand and detained under the various civil and criminal acts but not sentenced by the court of law are unaccounted.
No doubt, the major political and socio-economic agendas along with the challenges to implement the newly promulgated constitution are the foremost priority of the government at this stage. Divisional based selfish political practice, racism and so called identical issues based ill-fated political agendas in line with corruption led bureaucracy is not only to blame for the degrading national issues. It is also the citizens of this poor country who let the state run by those rats and mice making hole in their own boat. That’s why; it’s you, me and all to take the blame.
After almost six years of working with Australian detention centre and prisons, at least my view towards prison, prisoners and prison management has changed. A strong prison, prison act and prison regulation in the country definitely helps in establishing a strong justice system implementing the rule of law in the judiciary system. Experts believe a strong prison is only established if it is continuously regulated, monitored and operated by independent body such as ombudsman. Either, it is a government run prison, private-government partnership or privately operated prison, the ultimate responsibility of the prison is to take care of the prisoners in the custody and plan rehabilitation and reintegration strategies to establish them back in the community after the end of their sentenced period. But the question is; have we established a system that provides proper strategic approaches to reintegrate those people in the community so the reoffending ratio decreases? Have we ever researched and invested our time enough on those issues that help in decreasing the crime from the nation rather than focusing on the criminals? The answer is unknown.
It is true that the criminals and crimes are the part of the society which will never be eradicated to null. Even the developed nations are struggling to downsize the overcrowded prison population as a result of increment in civil and criminal offences. United States itself had more than 22 million prisoners behind the bars (2013, world prison briefs) which is the ratio of 693 individuals in every one hundred thousand population. China holds the second largest population of the prisoner behind the bar, which is 16 million. Russia, Brazil and India hold more than four hundred thousand prisoners in their cell. Due to the rise in the prison population and lack of new and advanced infrastructure it is being more difficult to take care of those behind the bar.
Reports suggest that the self-harm episodes within the prison/correction facility dramatically rise in recent days. Mental health of the prisoner is deteriorating which is costing high to every individual tax payer in the country. The budget dispensed to the prison facility itself is not sufficient to run the prison excluding the cost of police guards who are paid through the budget of home ministry. Prisons and correction facilities are not generating any revenues but costing the budget that could have been utilised to develop the infrastructures. And the fact is nobody in the government cares about where the money is spent and how is it spent unless ombudsman starts investigating. These are the minimum issues that have been raised but a lot more to be discussed yet.
However the monopoly of state run prison in United States had ended back in 20th century during the Reagan administration due to the degradation of the services provided to the prisoners. Not only the service delivery was dramatically declined but also the cost of running those prisons were excessively high resulting the era of prison privatisation.
A lot of people bite their tongue discussing on privatising the national prisons and let them operate independently. Not only those mass who are concerned due to the corrupted practice in Nepal but also it won’t be surprising if the custodial officers or the police officers who work with the Department of Prison Management walk away and start protesting against the movement. At least the history suggests the case, evidencing the instances of other countries like America, UK and Australia who have faced similar issues in the past. It comes as no surprise that on the day that the government’s privatisation plans announces, prison officers/police officers will walk off the jobs and protest.
No change would be easy, neither it is easy to convince to the mass without action. Among those interest groups who are divided not on the basis of development issues and agendas but divided just to cut the throat of the opponent, establishment of private prison will be difficult to practice. But given the benefit of doubt, this is what general public in Nepal have ever coped with the government implementing the new set of ru
les and regulations. Model of operation can surely be discussed but protesting for the sake of protest ends with the span of time.
As a result, the over-crowded prison population would be managed cost effectively, new prison precincts would be built and the load of the government in managing these facilities would be less. The prisons developed with high security CCTV surveillances, offenders records in the integrated prisoner management system, management of remand prisoners and the employment opportunity to at least more than three thousand extra jobs are all possible. Not only the cost effective part of the prison is implemented but also the positive issues in developing the prison industry as an active labour force is possible. Why can’t a Chauddhary Group establish a branch of Wai – Wai factory with in the prison, why can’t any offender be reintegrated to the society with training and education? Why can’t the reoffenders be minimisedonce the offender is released from the prison? This is all possible and can be achieved if the political leaders and bureaucrats have an intention to develop the prison management system with a result.
I have no intention to step on someone else toe and advise them what not to do but some of the issues that are completely undermined and manipulated by the system needs at least to be discussed at some point. Tax and remittance based economy which is run by the tax paid by general citizens and remittances paid by those working in the gulf countries in the humidity of hundred per cent got every right to question on the money spent on prisons and prisoners with no result.