Centre asks states to monitor books available in prison libraries

The Union home ministry has asked state governments and prison authorities across the country to monitor the literature available in libraries to ensure that inmates are “not influenced negatively”.

In a letter dated May 2, the ministry also urged the authorities to verify, on a periodic basis, the background of non-government organisations involved in prison activities.

“State government and prison authorities should take effective steps to prevent prisons from becoming breeding ground for anti-national activities, for which regular inspection of prisons may be conducted,” the letter also stated.

Notably, last month, the Bombay High Court had commented that it was “really comical” that the authorities in the city’s Taloja Jail had refused to hand over a book by PG Wodehouse sent to activist Gautam Navlakha by his family. The jail administration had said that the book posed a “security risk”.

Navlakha, 70, is an accused in the Bhima Koregaon case, which pertains to caste violence in a village near Pune in 2018. He was among 16 people arrested for allegedly plotting the violence.

Two other accused in the same case – Sudha Bharadwaj and Hany Babu– were also denied books in the prison in 2020. In January last year, Bharadwaj was allowed access to five books per month by a special National Investigation Agency court. It had, however, asked prison authorities to “carefully examine the books” for “objectionable content” before handing them to Bharadwaj.

Meanwhile, in its letter to the states and jail authorities, the Union home ministry also suggested that in order to restrict the use of mobile phones by inmates, technology to jam networks should be used. The letter added that duties of prison staff could be rotated on a regular basis to discourage corrupt practices.

“Inter-jail (and not intra-jail) transfer of staff every two years is considered desirable,” the home ministry suggested. “Unnecessary movement of jail staff in and out of the jail should be restricted and controlled effectively, for which proper entry and exit registers of jail staff may be maintained.”

Other security measures

In its advisory, the home ministry suggested that the periphery wall of all jails must be designed in a manner so that inmates are not able to throw contraband items outside. Authorities have been asked to improve medical facilities so that inmates with ailments need not be referred to hospitals or clinics outside the prison complex.

“Psychological assessment of inmates by competent medical professionals may be encouraged to reduce depression in prison and provide them with a positive outlook in life,” it said.

First time offenders should not be kept in the same wards as repeat offenders to avoid negative influence on them, the ministry added.

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