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An Idea of a Prison

The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data suggests that the percentage of convicts particularly from among the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and Muslims are disproportionately higher to their respective population. In the interest of public reason, it is necessary to take into consideration the NCRB’s observations, which are significant to discover meaning that is embedded in the link between prison inmates and their social background. The editorial in this issue of EPW has underscored the social meaning that is hidden in the disproportionate representation of the groups mentioned above. Taking the inquisitive direction of the editorial ahead, let us explore further the question: Why is the link between the social background of the convicts and the disciplinary institution such as prison so important? What bearings does the institution of prison have on the perception of the convicts and the larger society? How has the idea of prison been perceived by the members of society? Also, are we using the idea of disproportionate confinement as a standard to measure degree of fairness? Put differently, do we expect the prison to become humanitarian by converting it into a redemptive space? Will this conception of the prison as a rehabilitative ideal help in reducing the gap between the prison as a formal penal regime and the informal penal confinement such as socially stigmatised settlements?

From the moral point of view, the punitive institution, such as prison, by and large, is considered as a space that people should never enter. Thus, to enter this space is considered by many as morally scary and dreaded. This perception indicates a widening gap between itself and the society at large. However, political prisoners, such as freedom fighters, do not hold such a view of the prison. In fact, M K Gandhi as the political prisoner treats the prison as a temple, a place to recuperate one’s energy for spiritual self-reflection. Gandhi even called prison an ashram where truth could be practiced. The official policy of the state sees the redemptive possibility in such institutions. Such thinking, in the ideal sense, would like to ultimately reduce the gap between penal confinement and the so-called civil society.

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Updated On : 14th Sep, 2020

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