Record 4,716 cell phones seized from prisoners in Punjab jails

Chandigarh : Prisons in Punjab, with a dubious history of gangsters, murderers, rapists, and terrorists posting pictures on social media, issuing extortion threats and hatching criminal conspiracies, are infamous for a storehouse of illegal drugs, mobile phones and prohibited items.

In almost one year, 4,716 mobile phones, the highest number in the recent years, have been seized from prisons, said the government.A cellphone is one of the most treasured items in most of the jails of Punjab where a prisoner using a mobile phone is not a cognizable offence.

Probes conducted by the Jail Department have exposed a nexus between criminals and jail staff to supply phones, right from making video calls to family and friends to making ransom and threat calls.

Also, as per estimates of the department, close to 45 per cent of the 30,000 prisoners are addicted to drugs and they use mobile phone not only for procuring drugs, liquor and cigarettes from outside the jail premises but also a status symbol.

Taking a step to turn jails into reform houses, the AAP government, in a first-of-its-kind initiative, has stated screening all prisoners for drug abuse.In order to design and implement better de-addiction strategy, a survey of all addict prisoners has been conducted. The survey comprised 86 questions, prepared by a committee of senior educationists and its report of the survey is being prepared, officials told IANS.

This initiative comes in the wake of several instances of mobile phones and drugs seizures from the prisons and including the arrest of an additional superintendent posted of the Central Jail in Ferozepur in November on charges of supplying phones and drugs to prisoners.

As per police records, 10-odd jail officials, comprising two medical officers, were booked or arrested recently on charges of supplying mobile phones and drugs to prisoners.After the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government led by Bhagwant Mann took the helm in March, it assured to free all jails of mobile phones in next six to eight months, making Punjab the first state in the country to achieve the milestone.

Minister Harjot Singh Bains, who did a surprise inspection of several prisons, blamed the previous governments in the state for the mess in the jails.As per him, the modus operandi is that aides of inmates used to throw the mobile phones, wrapped in paper, in the jail complex over the compound wall.

To prevent use of mobile phones, he said that the government is installing jammers and CCTV cameras in the jails with advanced technology.A government spokesman told IANS that random checking is being done regularly to prevent illegal activities.

He said that strict action has been taken against the employees of the Jail Department who are delivering drugs and mobile phones. So far 4,716 mobile phones have been seized from the prisoners from checkings, the highest number in the past years.

Recognising the vital role families play in the reentry process, and will support incarcerated individuals in maintaining ties with family and friends through personal intervention, the prisoners, who maintain good conduct, are now allowed to meet their family members by registering under the Family Visits project.

This project was started in prisons on September 15 to motivate prisoners to shun path of crime and for their re-integration with their families. Since then, 7,497 family visits have taken place across the prisons, the spokesperson said.

In the recent sensational escape, gangster Deepak Tinu, one of the masterminds in killing of famed singer Sidhu Moosewala, had escaped from the custody of Punjab Police. He was on a production warrant and police investigations indicted that he had hatched a conspiracy to flee while inside the jail.

A mobile phone was also recovered from Tinu and another accused in the Moosewala’s murder case when they were in the Goindwal jail.Having fled on October 1, Tinu was arrested by the Delhi Police’s special cell from Rajasthan’s Ajmer on October 20.

In the past, the killing of a prime suspect in the desecration of Guru Granth Sahib in a high-security jail of Nabha town and the 2016 Nabha jailbreak in which gangsters freed six hardcore prisoners showed the mess and how convicts and others have been forced to live in inhuman conditions.

Punjab has 18 jails that house nearly 30,000 inmates, with over 65 per cent of them are under trial, while they can only hold up to a maximum of 15,000.The occupancy rate in some of the jails is as high as 150 per cent.

Overcrowding, poor jail management and understaffing are mainly responsible for the mess in the state prisons. They are also responsible for violence, officials admitted.Official records show over 30 per cent posts meant for Punjab jails are vacant. There is a huge shortage of wardens or matrons. Most of the CCTVs and jammers are lying defunct. There is no provision of biometric attendance by inmates in any of the state prisons.

Against the national average of 6:1 ratio of prisoner and jail warden, the state has the ratio of 9:1.It is money that matters in Punjab jails as there is no entry into the prison without a bribe.

“By paying a bribe of just Rs 200, you can supply home cooked food and a packet of cigarette to my husband with help of jail staff,” said Sarita Devi (real name withheld).Her husband has been undertrial for attempt to murder in the Amritsar Central Jail for over a year.

Requesting anonymity, another family member of an inmate said in almost every prison it is the lure of “easy money” that tempts jail employees to bend the law to facilitate the inmates, including high-profile ones, despite central security has been deployed at six of the 10 high-security jails in the state.

According to him, the common modus operandi to supply banned items is throwing them into the prison from the outside, especially in foggy weather.Inspector General of Police Sukhchain Singh Gill, in a yearly update on crime, told the media that the crime rate in Punjab has witnessed a decline this year with the fall in numbers of murders and kidnappings.

Quoting the data, he said that the number of murders this year reduced to 654 from 723 in 2021, whereas kidnappings decreased from 1,787 in 2021 to 1,645.



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