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Mumbai: Family members of incarcerated persons don’t have it easy. From waiting in long queues to jstling inside the crammed mulakat (visitors’) room inside the prison and a hostile prison staff, the family members have to struggle a great deal to ensure a meeting that may not last longer than a few minutes.
In a detailed study conducted across four states – Delhi, Haryana, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu – the plight of prisoners’ family members has been documented in great detail. The study titled ‘Prisoners’ contact with their families: Procedures, practices and experiences’ has been conducted by Prayas, a field action project of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences. Prayas has documented experiences of over 120 incarcerated persons, their families and prison officials over a period spanning seven months.
The study, led by a large team of researchers from TISS, has been carried out in keeping with the United Nation’s Standard Minimum Rules for Treatment of Prisoners 1955 and the Nelson Mandela Rules 2015.
In Maharashtra, the Mumbai central prison, Byculla district prison, Thane central prison, Kalyan district prison and Yerwada central prison were chosen for the study. In Delhi, In Tamil Nadu, central prisons and special women’s prisons in Puzhal, Thiruchirappali and Coimbatore were covered for the study. Project director and TISS professor Vijay Raghavan said that the team will be meeting the prison departments of the southern states. “We will be presenting the findings to the prison departments of five southern states on January 6,” Raghavan told The Wire. This meeting is done in collaboration with the Academy of Prisons and Correctional Administration, Vellore.
One of the women prisoners interviewed in Maharashtra says: “I, at times, feel sad that my family has to come early in the morning and wait outside for hours. They may or may not have eaten anything while starting from home. They mostly stay hungry throughout the day as they wait. Even drinking water facilities are not there at times. Despite all these troubles, their eyes fill with joy as they see me. I am happy when the staff calls out my name through the microphone saying that I have a visitor. It is time that we breathe.” The concern of going without food and water for hours, waiting outside in the scorching sun and biting cold runs common in almost all prisons covered in the study.
despite having registered themselves with valid IDs. The frustration and helplessness felt by visitors
yearning to meet their family members in prison are palpable.
Most prison rules are not practical and are designed as per the prison officials’ requirements,
seldom taking the visiting relatives’ convenience into consideration. For instance, in Maharashtra’s
Kalyan District Prison, clothes can be transferred only in the first half of the day of mulakat, while at
the Byculla District Prison, it was allowed at any time but only on Wednesdays. In Yerwada Central
Prison, the prisoner had to write down the things he/she required from the families. If these clothes
were “deemed necessary” by the jail warden or the jailor, they was allowed to be transferred from
the family to the prisoner.
On the inside, the visit space in jails of Maharashtra was crammed and did not have enough space
to hold a large number of visitors. “These rooms lacked ventilation and were mostly crowded with
people,” the research finds. In Maharashtra, however, a unique “galabhet” initiative has been de-
signed which allows prisoners to meet their children once every three months in person and spend
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