Thursday, November 11, 2010


Indian prisons can form a huge enterprise

With over 1,200 Jails and around 4,50,000 prisoners, Indian prisons can be compared to an economy. The number of prisoners in India is practically equal to population of countries like Malta or Brunei and more than that of Iceland, or Maldives and is three times more than the total labour force of the world’s largest employer – Wal - Mart! This human resource pool, if mobilised judiciously, can become a huge workforce for India Inc. However, unfortunately, these prisoners are still counted as unproductive resource. Owing to their past and social exclusion, most of them fail to fetch a decent job or employment post release and are left with no option other than to start something on their own or fall back to the world of crime. However, the Tihar Jail in Delhi, with the help of NGOs and government, has been training prisoners in various vocational skills. But then, the vocational training imparted is also confined to a few outdated professions (carpentry, computer, bakery, envelope-making, weaving/embroidery and painting) and thus contribute minute economic benefits to their lives after jail.

Putting numbers into perspective, with such enormous amount of manpower and potential, Indian jail can give stiff competition to any Indian corporation, provided they tweak their model to some extent. These jails can become ancillaries for many industries and eventually become a very integral part of the supply chain process. Moreover, the sizeable amount of prisoners of fairly educated prisoners can be deployed in managerial and supervisory roles. For instance, around 15 per cent of the inmates in Delhi jails have passed matriculate exams and around 4 per cent are graduates. More surprisingly, almost half of male inmates are in age bracket of 21 to 30 years who can be easily trained and deployed at different engagements. Taking a clue from prisons abroad, which are mostly privatised, India can also churn out sizeable revenues. Th is can not only compensate the expenditures incurred on maintenance of prisons, but also be used to create a more humane environment. For instance, the Federal Prison Industries Inc. (FPI) – US Federal Prison System – generated $854.3 million in sales in 2008! Companies like Motorola, IBM, Compaq and Chevron have oft en used prison labour for production purposes. Microsoft continues to hire prison labour in Texas and Washington to package and assemble various products. Similarly, J C Penney and Eddie Bauer get jeans and toys made by Tennessee inmates; Ohio prisoners’ produce car parts for Honda; prisoners of Oregon make uniforms for McDonalds and TWA even employs convicts to book reservations on phone. Even in UK, Cisco Systems Inc. works with prisons and offers training while the prisoners in Australia are put to work on manufacturing rainwater tanks.

Influenced by these successful models, Bangalore-based Radiant Info systems is all geared to set up a BPO at the Cherlapally jail and have already initiated the training process for 10 odd inmates. Unfortunately, such initiatives are sparse and employ a very small percentage of the total prison-force. Without a nationwide replication of such initiative involving the huge prison-force, such substantial change can hardly be felt. The potential for big business will only exist if Indian jails re-structure its strategy to build up skills and ensure that the training programmes allow a person to integrate back into the society as inmates complete their sentence!



  1. Prasoon! Do you think we have enough employment for non-prisoners. We are still struggling to get employment for all non-prisoners. After achieving this aim only we can or should think in that direction.

  2. @Vikas - In macroeconomics, full employment is a condition of the national economy, where all or nearly all persons willing and able to work at the prevailing wages and working conditions are able to do so. It is defined either as 0% unemployment, literally, no unemployment (the rate of unemployment is the fraction of the work force unable to find work. Whatever the definition of full employment, it is difficult to discover exactly what unemployment rate it corresponds part of the many people want to work at prevailing wages and working conditions ...mainly the educated lot.

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  4. the very concept of this huge human pool has been undermined by our society.As Prof.Majumdar rightly points,this sect has nothing to fall back upon once released into the society.They either are sucked back into the world of crime to avoid the life as social-outcasts.
    At the risk of sounding absolutely fascist..Every civilization requires a certain amount of sacrifice to step onto the stairs of pun intended...but having said that..shouldn't the so called filth as filtered by the judiciary be appropriately applied to tasks which require a focused and a dictated approach for a larger picture...for instance, consider applying the prison work force for a project like revamping the Indian drainage system,taking one town,village,city at a time....or maybe applying them for the upkeep and maintainability of our countryside...this way more dues would be paid back to the society at large..what say?

  5. Sir, it was great having read your article. I am an Economics undergraduate and
    I am interning with TATA under their Corporate Sustainability dept. and would be grateful if I could gather some views from you and the readers about what do you views you hold upon the tpoic of my research:CORPAORATES HELPING PRISONERS-A MYTH OR A POSSIBILITY. I would love to include your views in my report.