mid-day editorial: Overcrowded jails need a bail out

Yesterday, this paper ran a front page report on a city non-profit, helping undertrials who are not able to afford bail. Central to the report was the story of an 87-year-old who was arrested for kidnapping and extortion. The senior citizen was granted bail but he could not afford the bail bond. Yet, after a month the non-profit Al-Birr Foundation paid for his bond.

Though this person was treated well in prison, like others, he yearned and prayed for freedom every day, till the NGO came to his rescue. Many undertrials in Indian jails serve terms that far exceed the sentences they would have been given, had they been convicted. Shockingly, reports state that many undertrials languish for more than 10 years in prisons. While now, there are moves to change the systems and amendments to the law are being made, we need non-profits working in tandem and within the system to make life more bearable for those for whom justice is delayed is not a cliché but a biting reality.

There should be extensive counselling, some recourse to legal and financial assistance for these undertrials. Bail assistance is primary as it is the first step towards securing freedom, and more organisations need to offer this kind of assistance, looking at the sheer number of undertrials crowding the jails.

It will help de-congest some jails, which are straining with the numbers. The longer benefit is that it will help petty criminals and first time offenders, to reform their ways. Otherwise, they may be pushed into a life of hardcore crime. Bitter and seething with a sense of injustice, these undertrials may soon traverse a dangerous path, committing serious crimes, when they finally get their freedom as they feel wronged by the system or, because society may shun them completely.

Last year, even the Supreme Court said a person should not languish in jail just because he was not able to furnish bail bond, and undertrial prisoners who spend half of the maximum sentence prescribed for the offences they are charged with, must be released newspaper reports stated. And when the apex courts speak, it pays to listen and act on that.

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