In a recent EPW article, Vijay Hiremath draws attention to a new Prison Policy drafted by an almost-secretive commission constituted entirely of prisons bureaucracy, which took many organisations working on prison reform by surprise. This alleged non-cunsultative procedure could only have created a state-centered policy, as Hiremath alleges is the case.
Yet, there are some interesting aspects to the policy. One that caught my attention was the statement that ‘The committee has also recommended alternatives to imprisonment and extensive amendments to the Prisons Act of 1884.’ I haven’t seen the report and don’t know if this suggests an official recognition of community sentences. But as this article explains, the judiciary is already imposing community sentences in some cases (their legality is qestionable since I doubt whether current criminal laws provide enough scope for imposition of such sentences). This is an important development, and one needs to see whether the report gives adequate attention to the problems with community sentences, specifies which crimes deserve it and which must be dealt with by incarceration alone. The idea has been employed in many countries for years now, and is a useful one to interrogate. But we must have better reasons to adopt it than the sole fact that our prisons have run out of space.