Crime itself is not a disease though it may due to disease. This is perfectly true in respect of women in conflict with law. Tamil Nadu is one of the few states where women inmates are housed in separate prison exclusively built for women keeping in view their special requirement. The prison establishment is also supervised fully by women prison officials. The total strength of women inmates’ population in the country is 14,657 and the average in Tamil Nadu is about 1000 which is about 6% of total prison population in the State. The All India male to female prison population is around 94% to 6%. In Tamil Nadu separate prison complex are available in Puzhal, Trichy, Vellore, Cuddalore and 10 other Sub-jails while in many states the women prisoners are kept in portion of the main prison complex.
There are several issues relating to women inmates. They can be categorized as (i) Admission (ii) Classification (iii) Reformation Programme (iv) Vocational Training (v) Health and Hygine (vi) Psychological emotional issues (vii) Vision and emergency leave (viii) Rehabilitation on release (ix) Resociliation and acceptance. Women prisoners on admission are in a mentally disturbed condition. Mental Health is an issue in respect of all prisoners but more so for women prisoners. A study has revealed that nearly 60% of inmates suffer from various issues of mental health like psychosis, major depressions and personality disorder. General health problem in custodial care are detection of communicable diseases, mental health and substances abuse.
On the basis of their health, social background, educational standard, classification has to be made to house them in the prison.
Reformation programmes for the women inmates has to be tailored to their requirement. Most of the women inmates like their male counterpart are illiterate but generally their response to educational programmes is quite good. Vocational training for women are important which will help their rehabilitation on release. Specific marketable skills have to be imparted. Computer courses have been started in women prison complex and it is gratifying to note that women inmates have enthusiastically taken to computer literacy.
Women inmates undergo intensive emotional stress due to separation of from their families. Study of the age profile of the inmates in Tamil Nadu prisons reveals that of the total 1000 inmates about 200 are in the age group of 20 to 30 years, which is the child bearing age for women. Almost 350 inmates are in the age group of 30 to 40 years where they have young growing children who are deprived of emotional support of the mother. In a land mark judgment in Upadhyay Vs. State of Andhra Pradesh gender specific issues of women have been dealt in detail and minimum standards have been laid for care of mother and child. In pursuance of this, woman inmates are allowed to keep their children up to six years of age. Pregnant women in prisons have to be given proper Pre natal and Post-natal care. Children born during incarceration shall be registered in local birth Registration office to avoid stigma of child birth in prison. Creche facilities for taking care of children in prison complex has been provided with sufficient play materials including cradle for the small children. Play school facility to impart rudimentary instruction to children through play way method is available with qualified teachers from District administration. Special diet for pregnant women, lactating mothers and special diet for children are being provided on the basis of recommendation of Sudha Ramalingam Advocate Commission. Hygiene is yet another problem and care is being taken to ensure that inmates are inculcated healthy habits particularly during menstrual cycle. The inmates are also counselled and tested for prevalence of AIDS.
Women undergo enormous emotional stress due to separation from the family. A survey has revealed that women inmates have a fatalistic attitude towards their imprisonment which they feel that they suffer as they have not obeyed the advice of elders. They blame their husbands or male companions who have forced them to criminal life. They are concerned about their children’s future and are on guilt trip that they are not able to take care of their children. They fear that their children may succumb to wayward habits leading to inter generational crime. However in the case of male inmates they blame their parents for the plight. They also repent for their bad association and addiction to liquor and drugs. They rarely worry about future of their children.
Incarceration of women leads to the problem of intergenerational crime due to lack of parental control. Most of the inmates are from the poor strata of society and are subject to personality and physical abuse right from their childhood. Once they give birth to children their husbands begin to neglect them and look elsewhere for their sexual needs. This adds to neglect, feeling of loneliness, insecurity and emotional trauma. When they are incarcerated the trauma only gets aggravated.
The social stigma attached to a women prisoner is much worse compared to male. Visit by families is als few and far between. They are rarely consulted on important family decisions. Children are mostly neglected or in some instances taken care of by blood relatives who are reluctant to meet them due to societal stigma.
Analysis of crime profile of women prisoners in Tamil Nadu Prisons reveals that of the 172 convicted inmates 127 are involved in murder cases which is mostly crime of passion and not pre meditated. Sixteen are involved in dowry related cases, 10 in property offences and 10 involved in petty quarrel. Of the 800 inmates who are under trials, nearly 50% are involved in illicit liquor and drug offences. In the dowry cases women in the age group of 50 and above are concerned. There are 51 senior citizens above the age of 60 and one 85 year old involved in a dowry death case undergoing imprisonment in Puzhal prison. Most of the women concerned in prohibition and drug offence have been forced into the trade by their male companions. In dowry related cases it is always their son who through his mother instigates demand of dowry and the parents willy nilly get into the vortex of this social malaise.
As on date there are 9 pregnant women in the Tamil Nadu prison and 48 children with their mothers. In the last three years Tamilnadu prisons have been home to 22 children who have had the privilege of having been born in Prison. After all was not lord Krishna born in Prison? Highest was last year (2008) when 8 children were born. All children have survived and are healthy mainly due to the excellent health care in women prisons.
It is a sad commentary on the state of the society that women are increasingly forced into crime. In general there is change in the pattern of crime and increasing trend in certain offences. Arrest in the last 30 year has increased by 95% in all India level. 26.53 lakhs of arrest have been made in 2006 in IPC cases as against 13.80 lakhs in 1973. Tamilnadu is one of the states where arrest rate is high. On an average 7.33 lakhs are arrested every year including 65,000 women. Arrest of women is mostly in social offences under Special and Local Laws. Police have to look into the Policy of arrest as regards women. Arrest should be resorted to only in heinous offences or where there is immediate threat to public order.
In Thailand a system of deferred Sentence has been introduced by suitably amending Criminal Procedure Code where pregnant women coming in conflict with law are not sent to prison immediately. Their sentence is suspended for 3 years enabling them to take care of the child in the initial infancy stage.
Rehabilitation and social integration are two other crucial imperatives which should receive focused attention of correctional administration and also the civil society. It has to be ensued that the woman on release is not placed in vulnerable position with high risk of reverting to crime. Substance abuse is not such a significant problem as in western countries or in most of the Asian Countries. Social acceptance and domination by spouse forcing a hapless woman to deviance are two major challenges to Correctional Administration.
This Article Published in The Hindu on 13.09.2009