Approximately 10.2 million people are believed to be in penal institutions worldwide – either as pre-trial detainees or as sentenced prisoners. Crime or criminal activity is such that it has been prevalent in society for ages. The act of performing a crime may be in the form of a need basis – such as a poor person stealing apples for their starving child. It may also be in the form of pure pleasure – such as a murderer going on a killing spree solely because they find it “fun”; the allure of crime is something that is not alien to a majority of people – be it in the form of petty crimes or major crimes. The classic sociologist Emile Durkheim, on the topic of crime, was stated as being of the mind that “crime exists in all societies because it reaffirms moral boundaries and at times facilitates needed social changes”. With crime being so prevalent everywhere, the question of how to deal with offenders arises – whether stringent punishments should be imposed, or if we should deal with offenders more humanely by trying out reformation and rehabilitation.
THE ATTITUDE OF SOCIETY TOWARDS OFFENDERS
Society, in general, tends to have a negative view and opinion of offenders. Many fail to understand the reasons behind many of these crimes – poverty, addiction, mental health, etc. can play a defining factor in why a crime may have been committed at times. Many people turn a blind eye to offenders’ problems before they enter the prison and after they leave prison. Offenders are rarely given employment offers; they struggle to find jobs or continue their careers after leaving prison due to employers’ negative perceptions towards offenders. For many men, going to prison means that they will no longer support their families monetarily – in many cases, men are the breadwinners of families. Then they can no longer earn money due to having been incarcerated.
WHAT IS REFORMATION AND REHABILITATION OF OFFENDERS?
Reformation, which stems from the word ‘reform,’ is the process of making changes in something – usually an institution or a practice – to improve it. In the case of offenders, reformation would help offenders relinquish their immoral or criminal behavior. Rehabilitation can be defined as “the process of re-educating and retraining those who commit a crime”. Reformation and rehabilitation go hand-in-hand, with rehabilitation providing offenders with insight into the world and their actions, and reformation giving them the freedom and power to overcome their mistakes.
Today, information is readily available at our fingertips at any given time. With the media putting more focus on prisoners’ condition inside of prisons and the troubles they face with their reentry into the society, the need for reformation and rehabilitation is now being highlighted more than ever. Nowadays, more people are entering prison for an extended period after committing low-level offenses.
Reformation and rehabilitation of offenders can be found in Scandinavia or Norway, where the crime rates are usually lower compared to the rest of the world. They place more importance on the relinquishment of offenders than making them serve long prison sentences. On the opposite end of the spectrum would be a country like the United States, which has the world’s highest incarceration rate. They focus on ensuring that offenders are met with high prison sentences, even for low-level crimes.
NEED FOR REFORMATION AND REHABILITATION OF OFFENDERS
Reformation and rehabilitation are majorly overlooked and is seldom ever taken into account as a reasonable corrective measure. Currently, remedial measures for prisoners/offenders include the option of open prisons, probation, parole, etc. There are a few reasons why reformation and rehabilitation must be taken into consideration as an effective and efficient measure for offenders’ correctness. Some of the reasons are as follows:
OFFENDER’S RE-ENTRY INTO SOCIETY
Many offenders, once released, do not know how to function appropriately in society. Re-entry into community and society can be exceedingly troublesome and challenging for them. Despite having a minor criminal record, they may face several obstacles. Employment opportunities are also hard to come by, as employers mostly do not trust people who have just left prison.
Due to offenders’ time at prison and the challenges they face in reentry into society in terms of social or economic problems, it is elementary for them to go back into a lifestyle involving crime. Once released from prison, offenders are not given an adequate amount of support and are often left to fend for themselves when they are in the outside world. A study conducted in 2005 by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that in a 15 states study in the United States, over two-thirds of the released prisoners were rearrested within three years of their release.
MENTAL HEALTH CONDITIONS OF PRISONERS
Although prisons themselves are supposed to be places of reformation and rehabilitation, they may lead to the opposite effect many of the time. After being released from prison, offenders tend to display more signs of violence and aggression – as opposed to what the case should be. According to a paper published by Francesco Drago in the American Law and Economics Review, “all point estimates suggest that harsh prison conditions increase post-release criminal activity”. A recent report found that over 90 percent of the prisoners in the United Kingdom suffer from mental health problems
OVRCROWDING IN PRISONS
Most major prison systems are feeling a significant problem in almost all the major crime offending countries because of overcrowding in prisons. Overcrowding can lead to inhumane living conditions and can, in turn, worsen the mental health of prisoners. Overcrowding is one such problem that is pervasive throughout India.
These are some of the main reasons that could constitute a need for offenders’ reformation and rehabilitation. A lot of these reasons concern the problems faced by offenders. With the use of reformation and rehabilitation, many of these factors could be done away with for a lot of people.
The problem of repeated offences and the mental health conditions of offenders can be dealt with significantly by imposing reformation and rehabilitation on selected prisoners. In a project called the Durham Constabulary Checkpoint Project (which is the longest-running and one of the most advanced ‘deferred prosecution’ schemes in England), had over 2,660 offenders who committed crimes such as burglary and assault which took part in this project which would make them avoid prosecution by entering into a four-month-long rehabilitation program for substance usage and mental health issues. The experiment found a 15 percent drop in repeat offenses after two years compared to the participants who took part in the rehabilitation program compared with those who did not.
In the matter of offenders’ reentry into society and overcrowding in prisons: Such reformation and rehabilitation programs such as the one in England will help offenders in being able to enter society again as they would not have been exposed to the harsh conditions found in traditional prisons. Reformation and rehabilitation programs will help them self-reflect, overcome substance abuse or mental health problems, etc. Overcrowding can also be dealt with by taking a significant chunk of low-level offenders who have committed crimes such as petty thefts and removing them from prison systems and adding them to rehabilitation programs instead.
OPEN PRISON SYSTEM OF INDIA
Thought to be one of India’s most lenient prison systems – in this prison system, prisoners are given a fair amount of freedom and are not bound by stringent rules (such as those found in traditional prisons). It is a very close interpretation of the reformation and rehabilitation theory, which can be found in India. Open prisons have minimum security and places more focus on the self-discipline of the offenders.
In this system, the offenders are not bound by any locks, walls, or bars. According to the Rajasthan Prisoners Open Air Camp Rules, 1972, the offenders can leave the prison any time after their roll call, and they must return before the second roll call. While they do not have many restrictions imposed upon the offenders, they require the offenders to earn money to support their families.
People eligible to enter open prisons are convicts who have had good behavior and conduct and have served a minimum of five years in a traditional closed prison. The most prosperous state in terms of their implementation of open prisons can be found in Rajasthan, where most open prisons in India can also be found.
While it is still a theory that requires more understanding and more experiments for up till now, the view of reformation and rehabilitation stands its ground and makes a successful case for itself. It would be in the best interest of all countries to implement this system – both for the betterment of society and the offender’s benefit.
 World Prison Population List available at: https://www.apcca.org/uploads/10th_Edition_2013.pdf (last visited September 26, 2020).
 National Criminal Justice Reference Service available at: https://www.ncjrs.gov/App/publications/Abstract.aspx?id=183063#:~:text=Classic%20sociologist%20Emile%20Durkheim%20theorizes,especially%20violent%20crime%2C%20so%20that (last visited September 25, 2020).
 Rehabilitation (penology) available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rehabilitation_(penology) (last visited September 25, 2020).
 Bureau of Justice Statistics: Reentry Trends In The US available at: https://www.bjs.gov/content/reentry/recidivism.cfm (last visited September 26, 2020).
 American Law and Economics Review: Prison Conditions and Recidivism available at: https://academic.oup.com/aler/article-abstract/13/1/103/183298 (last visited September 26, 2020).
 Mental Health and Fair Trial available at: https://justice.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/JUSTICE-Mental-Health-and-Fair-Trial-Report-2.pdf (last visited September 25, 2020).
 Durham’s Pioneering Police Scheme Slashes Reoffending Rates available at: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/feb/14/durham-pioneering-police-scheme-slashes-reoffending-rates-rehabilitation-programme (last visited September 26, 2020).
 What is an open prison? Available at: https://indianexpress.com/article/what-is/what-is-an-open-prison-4980425/#:~:text=08%2F1x1.png-,Open%20prisons%20have%20relatively%20less%20stringent%20rules%20as%20compared%20to,camps%20or%20prison%20without%20bars.&text=Every%20state%20in%20India%20has,Andhra%20Pradesh%20Prison%20Rules%2C%201979. (last visited September 27, 2020).
BY POOJA BOMMAREDDY | O.P JINDAL GLOBAL LAW SCHOOL