Yerwada Jail Uncovered!

Only prison reforms can fulfil the mandate of rehabilitation, dignity and justice. In the bustling city of Pune, Maharashtra, amidst the urban sprawl and vibrant culture, stands a towering monument to both history and contemporary challenges: the Yerwada Central Jail. Steeped in a rich tapestry of narratives, this formidable institution has witnessed pivotal moments in […]

Only prison reforms can fulfil the mandate of rehabilitation, dignity and justice.

In the bustling city of Pune, Maharashtra, amidst the urban sprawl and vibrant culture, stands a towering monument to both history and contemporary challenges: the Yerwada Central Jail. Steeped in a rich tapestry of narratives, this formidable institution has witnessed pivotal moments in India’s struggle for social justice and continues to grapple with pressing dilemmas in the modern era.

It was within the imposing walls of Yerwada Central Jail that in 1932, Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. B.R. Ambedkar converged to forge the Poona Pact, a historic agreement that resonated far beyond its confines. This pact marked a significant departure from the British policies of segregation, advocating instead for increased political representation for marginalised communities, setting the stage for a more inclusive democracy.

Today, Yerwada Central Jail remains a behemoth of the correctional system, holding the prestigious title of Maharashtra’s largest prison and standing as one of South Asia’s most imposing penal institutions. Its architecture tells a story of confinement and resilience, with the heart of the facility guarded by four towering walls enclosing a labyrinth of security zones and barracks. Among its architectural curiosities are the distinctive egg-shaped cells, purposefully designed to house the most high-security inmates, serving as poignant reminders of a bygone era.

Adjacent to the main facility lies the Yerwada Open Jail (YOJ), a beacon of a more progressive approach to incarceration. Here, inmates serving life sentences, having completed a minimum of five years in the central jail, experience a setting marked by basic security measures and a departure from traditional cellblocks. It represents a glimmer of hope amidst the sombre reality of imprisonment, offering opportunities for rehabilitation and reintegration into society.

However, amidst its storied past and architectural magnificence, Yerwada Central Jail grapples with a pressing dilemma: a severe shortage of prison staff. In a prison complex once synonymous with the incarceration of India’s nationalist leaders, the clamour of overcrowding now reverberates through its halls. With an inmate population nearing 7000, far surpassing its nominal capacity of 2500, the prison struggles to accommodate convicts, undertrials, and denizens of the open jail, transcending gender boundaries and filling every available barrack. The overcrowding not only strains the physical infrastructure but also poses significant challenges to the welfare and rehabilitation efforts within the prison. It underscores the urgent need for comprehensive reforms and investments in the correctional system to address systemic issues and ensure humane treatment for all inmates.

Alarming cases!
A tragic incident unfolded at Yerawada Central Prison in Pune last year, as per a report released in December. A 27-year-old undertrial inmate lost his life in a brutal attack by four fellow undertrials, who allegedly used scissors and a metal hinge as weapons. The motive behind the assault was cited as an ongoing rivalry between the victim and the assailants, who were associated with rival gangs previously active in the Pimpri Chinchwad area. Many members of these gangs are currently held at Yerawada Central Prison under the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA).

Jail officials have shed light on the prevalent issue of frequent altercations and aggressive behaviour among inmates. They attribute such incidents to the challenges posed by overcrowding, which complicates efforts to segregate and maintain physical separation among prisoners, especially those affiliated with rival organised gangs.

According to statistics from the Prison Department, Maharashtra’s prisons are grappling with severe overcrowding. With an inmate population exceeding 41,000 against a capacity of around 25,000, the overcrowding stands at approximately 62%. The nine central prisons in the state are particularly strained, accommodating nearly 30,000 inmates compared to a capacity of around 16,200, resulting in a staggering overcrowding rate of approximately 76%. Yerawada Central Prison is notably overwhelmed, housing around 7,000 inmates despite a capacity of only 2,500, leading to an alarming overcrowding rate of 148%.
In 2022, Maharashtra ranked fourth in terms of total prisoners nationwide, with over 41,000 inmates spread across its 64 prisons. The official capacity of these prisons is approximately 25,000, making Maharashtra the second most overcrowded state after Delhi. These statistics underscore the urgent need for measures to address overcrowding and enhance safety within the state’s prison system.

In recent times, a series of violent incidents has sent shockwaves through the administration of Yerawada Central Prison in Pune, Maharashtra, sparking concerns and raising questions about the safety and management within these prison compounds. The latest disturbing report highlighting an event unfolded with a dozen undertrial inmates launching a brazen attack on an on-duty jailer, resulting in significant injuries. These bursts of violence behind the walls of Yerawada Central Prison, especially the unfortunate murder of a young undertrial inmate in December the previous year, followed by the assault on Jailer Pathan, have underscored the simmering tensions and dangerous undercurrents running through the inmate population.

These incidents are not isolated occurrences but rather symptomatic of a broader crisis within the prison system, where issues such as overcrowding, understaffing, and a lack of adequate resources create a volatile environment ripe for conflict and unrest. The constraints imposed by overcrowding pose significant challenges for prison authorities in maintaining order and ensuring the safety of both inmates and staff.
Adding to the gravity of the situation, a recent report by TOI revealed the distressing case of a 30-year-old undertrial prisoner, Mangesh Vitthal Bhor, who was found hanging in a veranda close to the prison’s pharmacy outlet. This tragic incident has once again brought to the fore questions regarding the effectiveness of mental health support and suicide prevention measures within the prison system. The fact that Bhor had previously attempted suicide in July last year underscores the urgency of addressing mental health issues among inmates and implementing robust intervention strategies.

While prison officials suspect depression as a possible motive behind Bhor’s suicide, the exact reasons remain unclear, highlighting the need for a comprehensive investigation into the circumstances leading to his death. Furthermore, this tragic event raises serious concerns about the capacity of the prison system to identify and address the underlying factors contributing to mental health crises among inmates.

Can fresh structure bring THE required change?
In response to the challenges facing Yerawada Central Prison and other correctional facilities in Maharashtra, there have been calls for urgent reforms and investment in infrastructure and staffing. One proposed solution is the construction of a new jail facility, as suggested by the Public Works Department (PWD) in a report released in the previous year. The proposed facility, with an estimated cost of Rs 175 crores, aims to accommodate 3,000 temporarily incarcerated prisoners and alleviate the strain caused by overcrowding.
However, the implementation of this plan has encountered obstacles, with progress awaiting action by the Police Housing Corporation. The initial design for the new jail included essential facilities such as administrative buildings and high-security rooms. Regrettably, this proposal was rejected by the Home Department, necessitating the development of a new plan by the Police Housing Corporation.

A development reported by HT last year, the Maharashtra state cabinet greenlit the recruitment of 1,700 constables and 300 officers for jails across the state. This decision comes after a prolonged hiatus in recruitment since 2006, highlighting the pressing need to address staffing shortages within the prison department. Currently facing a deficit of approximately 400 constables, the department aims to kickstart the recruitment process, which is projected to span eight months, followed by a year-long training period.
Furthermore, discussions are underway with TCS for the recruitment of 215 technical personnel, showcasing efforts to bolster the department’s operational capacity. Additionally, there is a proposal to engage Indian Police Service officers as senior superintendents, although as of now, there has been limited interest in this opportunity.

The HT report also shed light on the staffing situation within the state’s central prisons, revealing critical vacancies in key leadership positions. Despite the model prison manual stipulating the necessity of a senior superintendent to head each central prison, none of the nine facilities currently have such personnel in place. Moreover, the prescribed ratio of one constable for every six undertrials/convicts remains far from realised, with actual ratios ranging from one constable for every 21 to 28 individuals. Compounding these challenges, a vacant post for deputy inspector general further exacerbates staffing deficiencies within the department.

As efforts continue to address the pressing challenges within Yerawada Central Prison and other correctional facilities across Maharashtra, there is a growing recognition of the need for comprehensive reforms that prioritise the safety, security, and well-being of inmates. This includes not only addressing issues of overcrowding and understaffing but also investing in mental health support services and implementing innovative approaches to rehabilitation and reintegration. Only through concerted efforts and meaningful reforms can the prison system fulfil its mandate of promoting justice, dignity, and rehabilitation for all individuals under its care.

Vaibhav Agrawal is a Senior Defence Journalist and Editor at Business Upturn. He covers complex issues surrounding subjects like Space, Defence & Geopolitics. He can be reached at vaibhavmag1@gmail.com