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Indian prisons must be privatised, outsourced

Indian prisons are still more like Nazi-era concentration camps than being places for correcting the guilty. With over 3 lakh prisoners packed across 1,200 plus jails, the government is shamelessly unable to manage these centers and has reduced our prisons to human slaughter houses, where self-respect, dignity and morale are butchered at every single moment.

Most of the prisons in our country (barring two or maximum three) are a cost for the nation. The total expenditure on all prisons combined, across the nation, was estimated to be around Rs 2,69,726.80 lakhs during the year 2010-11, with every prisoner, on an average, costing the exchequer
Rs 19,446.60 (2010-11 data). In simple terms, the total cost on all prisoners put together is shared by around 1.5 lakh taxpayers.

Strangely, Gautam Doshi (group MD of ADAG) was assigned the work of making chairs and baking cakes and was paid peanuts in return. With 42.9% prisoners being educated till class 10 and 6.44% being graduates and above, it makes little sense for our authorities not to utilise their competencies. It’s astounding but true that the average monthly output per prisoner in India is no more than Rs 150, which is at the ebb of utilised resources.

This is where I advocate that our prisons should get privatised and their management outsourced. Imagine the condition of our jails where 368,998 prisoners are stuffed in prisons that can accommodate only 277,304 prisoners. This is not all. Our prisoners die less due to death sentences, but more on account of curable diseases, which they contract during their term in the prison!

In spite of 2,266,832 prisoners in US jails — six times that of India — neither do they die of diseases nor do they come out of jails as social threats; they come out more as skilled individuals. This is where India’s prison management should take a cue - from the Federal Prison Industries Inc. (FPI), the corporate arm of the US Federal Prison System. It’s superior to our system by many measures with 88 factories operating in 79 prisons, with a total employment of 14,200 inmates and an annual turnover of $745 million (as of FY2011). Other nations have also gone the privatisation route to great effect. In European countries and others, private prisons have been shown to enhance efficiencies significantly. No wonder that topnotch blue chip companies like Motorola, IBM, Compaq, Chevron and many more are regulars in utilising the services of the jailed in US and in many European countries.

Our government should immediately privatise our prisons (barring a few jails, where terrorists and the likes are imprisoned) and instead reduce itself to be an audit and regulatory body. It might seem like a distant dream now but as I’ve shown, it’s a commonplace practice in the West, especially in the US! Even in the US, there was a cost reduction of 10% when jails were privatised! In India, it would be magical to witness such professionalism in prisons that could eventually create an environment wherein prisoners could be trained for their own wellbeing! And imagine an IPO of Indian prisons. I am sure it would give tough competition to many corporations, hands down! But can our government push for it realistically, at a time when our Parliamentarians haven’t even been able to pass retail privatisation?

— The writer is a management guru and Honorary Director of IIPM Think TankĀ 

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