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Indian Church-run prison ministry calls for penal reforms

Adopt more concrete measures to ease hardship of those behind bars, their families, Prison Ministry India says
A general view showing the entrance of Sabarmati Central Jail in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India on Oct. 2, 2020

A general view showing the entrance of Sabarmati Central Jail in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India on Oct. 2, 2020. (Photo: AFP)

Published: November 23, 2022 09:34 AM GMT
Updated: November 24, 2022 05:09 AM GMT

A Catholic Church-run prison ministry in India has appealed to provincial governments to speed up reforms and adopt a rehabilitative view of prisoners and jails in the country.

The Prison Ministry India (PMI) wants authorities to address issues such as overcrowded prisons, delays in court trials, and inadequate health and hygiene facilities among other things to help transform the lives of prisoners.

The administration and management of Indian prisons and prisoners is the responsibility of the provincial or state governments.

“The governments with a view to providing better amenities to the prisoners have formulated policies and programs, but often the benefits are not reaching those languishing behind bars,” says Father Francis Kodiyan MCBS (Missionary Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament).

"It is the duty of the governments to make sure that prisoners enjoy fundamental and basic human rights"

Father Kodiyan, who founded the PMI along with Father Varghese Karippery in 1981, said some 450 delegates attended the organization’s 13th convention in Goa on Nov. 15-19.

The convention, according to an official statement, urged governments to “adopt more concrete measures to ease the hardship of those behind bars, their families and rehabilitation of the released”.

“Incarceration must give every opportunity for prisoners to accept their own guilt, acknowledge their need for repentance and reformation. It is the duty of the governments to make sure that prisoners enjoy fundamental and basic human rights,” the statement said.

Alluding to the deplorable conditions of prisoners, Father Kodiyan told UCA News on Nov. 23 that “more than 70 percent of prisoners are awaiting or are on trial, and delays in court procedures make them vulnerable to abuse and violations of their human rights.”

He said a vast majority of the prisoners came from poor backgrounds and hence were unable to afford the services of competent lawyers.

“It is high time that governments take special initiatives to provide legal aid and ensure speedy trials,” the priest said.

Father Kodiyan also suggested the classification and separation of prisoners based on the seriousness of the crime

“A first offender or a small offender is put inside the same prison cell as a hardcore criminal, which is detrimental to their rehabilitation,” he said.

“Serving prisoners is serving the suffering Christ"

The priest also appealed to the governments to start more open jails.

“It will not only help reduce overcrowding inside jails but also help first-time or small offenders transform their lives,” he added.

The PMI emphasized other steps like facilitating “visits by spouses and family members, special consideration for women prisoners, especially those pregnant and with young children.”

It also called upon the Catholic Church to train and engage more volunteers in addition to the 8,000 currently serving in the ministry. This could help accelerate schemes for providing employment, housing, healthcare, and education to those released from jails and their families.

“Serving prisoners is serving the suffering Christ,” Cardinal Filipe Neri Ferrao of Goa and Daman said in his presidential address to the convention on Nov 16.

The cardinal called for reintegrating released prisoners into society with compassion.

Bishop Alwyn D’Silva, chairperson of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) Office for PMI said: “Let us not forget that repentance and reconciliation are acts of grace and spiritual warfare for overcoming our worldly challenges and struggles.”

The convention decided to open 10 new homes for released prisoners and 10 special homes for trafficked girls, besides setting up 5,000 educational scholarships for children of prisoners.

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