Pune's law students are changing Yerawada prisoners' lives

Updated: Jan 26, 2018, 11:36 IST | Chaitraly Deshmukh

Students of Symbiosis Law School have been helping Yerawada jail inmates with legal issues, leisure activities and health issues since 2009; say they want to continue even post graduation

A medical camp organised by the students inside the jail
A medical camp organised by the students inside the jail

Students of a Pune-based college have been racking up experience even before they graduate, thanks to their ongoing work with inmates of Yerawada Central Prison. This time, a group of 38 students of Symbiosis Law School, ranging from first year to final year of the course, have managed to get 20 inmates released in the past two-and-a-half years, thanks to the free legal counselling they provide. The students have also been working closely with women inmates and their minor children, taking up sports, dance and English speaking lessons over weekends. In 2016, the proceeds of an award the students had won - the Herbert Smith Free Hills Award - went right back into helping improve the lives of the inmates.

Thanks to the profound
impact the project has had in their lives, most students have decided to continue it, post graduation. "Initially, we had planned to take up corporate jobs after finishing the course, but this experience at Yerawada jail has made us realise that there is a lot we can do for the betterment of society," the current lot of students told mid-day.

The students interacting with the Yerawada jail inmates
The students interacting with the Yerawada jail inmates

College cell
The law students have a cell at the college called Community Legal Care Centre (CLCC), under which the Prison Advocacy Programme (PAP) falls. Explaining the objective, Shashikala Gurpur, dean and director of the college, said, "Students need to learn the practical side of what they are studying. In the course of their work with the prison, they have found that inmates, particularly women, were emotionally disturbed, as they do not have contact with family, particularly with children. The students, therefore, have recommended the use of technology for inmates to maintain contact with their families."

Helping since 2009
She said the college has been helping out at Yerawada since 2009. Gurpur said, "In 2014, we set up a clinic inside the jail. Our work is focused on health, hygiene, recreation and other skills. Periodical health camps have detected many problems. We are especially focused on human rights and gender sensitivity and concern for children of jail inmates," she said.

Prof Atmaram Shelke, who is associated with the group, said, "Emotional and family bonding is missing in a jail atmosphere. The children of jail inmates want to become wardens and jailers because of the limited exposure they get." Suggestions by students The students have suggested that the prisoners' children (permitted to stay with their mothers up to the age of 6) have a resident paediatrician, a playground, swimming pool and indoor games. They have also suggested a review of working hours and a salary for inmates. These recommendations were recently submitted to Rajya Sabha member Vandana Chavan, a lawyer.

Jail superintendent UT Pawar said, "SLS students visit the jail every Saturday and have quality interactions with the inmates. They make the prisoners aware of their legal options, which makes the job of the authorities easier."

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