Prison reforms: Smart calling cards for inmates of Maharashtra jails
Inmates of Yerawada Central Prison, the state's largest jail, can now use smart card technology to call family and friends, in a pilot project
As part of a new prison reform drive in Maharashtra, the Yerawada Central Jail on 23 June commissioned a smart card-based "inmate calling facility" that allows prisoners lodged in different jail barracks to call family members at any point during the day. The cards are automated to restrict the calls to thrice in a month, with each session capped at 10 minutes.
The new 24-hour calling facility will be currently operated on a pilot-run basis for the next couple of months in the state's largest prison, and may later be extended to all such facilities in the state.
Currently, 40 calling booths have been installed inside the jail's premises, replacing the old coin-operated facility. In addition to the technology now being largely obsolete (so replacement and repairs were becoming untenable), the coin-operated telephone boxes were located at a distance from the high-security yards and isolated prison cells, which required inmates be escorted out to make calls and incurring a security risk.
Considering the security challenges, some jail superintendents had proposed that mobile phone facilities be provided to the prisoners. However, additional director general (ADG) of police and inspector general (prisons and correctional services) Amitabh Gupta recommended that the state home department grant permission to start a smart card-based calling facility inside the prisons instead.
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With this new arrangement approved by the state government, Tamil Nadu-based company Allen Group-L 69 has erected the necessary infrastructure in Yerawada.
Each prisoner who is allotted a smart calling card to access the facility will have to submit three phone numbers in advance to the authorities. These numbers are programmed for approval in the software system associated with the smart card-based calling technology. "As of today, certain categories [of prisoners] have been excluded from using this facility," ADG Gupta added.
However, all calls will be recorded — with 'consent' from prisoners — to prevent prevent misuse or abuse of the facility. Inmates who withhold consent simply won't have access to this facility, the authorities explained.
Launching the facility, Gupta said the smart card-based calling initiative should be implemented pan-Maharashtra in the next couple of months. This new facility is the need of the hour, he added, to reduce mental health issues amongst inmates and allow some social-emotional connections. He hoped that instances of psychological problems would reduce, and so also fights which seem to spring up amongst prisoners over petty issues, indicating stress and socialisation issues. "We have taken the necessary precautions so that the facility is not misused. The inmates can talk to their lawyer and family members and boost their overall morale," Gupta told the National Herald.
Maharashtra state currently has 60 jails with a total inmate housing capacity of 24,722 prisoners. However, there are currently 41,191 prisoners lodged in various state prisons — far in excess of the sanctioned capacity.
Yerawada Central itself is regarded as a historical prison, having been constructed in 1871 during the British empire. It is the largest prison in the state and one of the largest in South Asia, with several barracks, security zones and an open jail. A number of prominent Indian personalities like Mahatma Gandhi, Sarojini Naidu, Subhas Chandra Bose, and the Chapekar brothers were imprisoned within these premises during the Freedom Struggle.