Thursday, January 14, 2010


IGNOU’s free education to prisoners is set to refine the prisons

The irony is that most of the times, landmark initiatives, never get noticed. But then it is such initiatives that silently transform the landscape by challenging the conventions. Such an initiative has been taken up by the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) which recently announced that it will provide free education to prisoners. This will allow the jail inmates to receive free education of their choice across the nation.

The fact is that though the main purpose of a prison system or legal confinement is to metamorphose a convict's life and make him (or her) a productive and acceptable member of the society, it has been quite a contrast as far as Indian prisons are concerned. Most of the Indian prisons benchmark inhuman condition — from being a breeding ground for seasonal criminals to a hub of drugs and flesh trade, Indian prisons provide an enabling environment to ensure that even a one-time petty criminal culminates into a hardened criminal. IGNOU’s initiative to get them educated is indeed a path-breaking initiative as there is no other means by which the prisoners or under-trials can be restored back in the societal set up, for those who are going to return to the society, eventually. Also there is probably no other way by which, post their sentences these people can come back to the society in the most constructive and productive way, bereft of any stigma! The current system, to some extent, provides a few inmates with some kind of vocational skills and training – like furniture making and carpentry. But then, with lack of choice of education and shrinking market for manual labour, such training initiatives, though good, but did not allow them to productively engage with the society. Thus, by offering them with a degree (bachelors/master) or diploma – which, today, is considered a ‘minimum eligibility criteria’ for any decent job, IGNOU is doing a world of good for them. This also means that this initiative of IGNOU markedly reduces the probability of inmates coming out of the jail and returning to the world of crime once again.

Given the fact that Indian jails face a perennial problem of physical and sexual abuse and high level of exploitation, the role of jail authorities gets enhanced. In order to push forward this noble initiative, the jail authorities need to ensure that they provide the interested inmates with an environment, which is conducive for education. Furthering this perspective, if similar concept and initiative is spread across all types of inmates, especially to juvenile inmates, the benefits and the purpose of punishment and jail will get fulfilled manifolds. Most of the juvenile criminals are either school dropouts or are victims of some form of social malice. Thus, if on the same lines, schools (through PPP model or NGOs’ support) also realize their societal role and develop a similar model for juvenile prisoners, the whole idea of the penitentiary will become inclusive. Primary or secondary education will allow minors (in jails) to complete and continue their education and join back to a normal education system later on — which is not possible in the current system. Presently, neither do they have social acceptability nor do they have any basic education, thus they are unable to join formal education or for that matter even the workforce.

This move of IGNOU is not only noble but highlights an institute’s ever encompassing vision towards society. However, this excellent model can be really transformational, if it gets support from jail authorities, the government and secondary/ primary education providers and above all from the society at large.


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