Modern prison policy and methods of dealing with criminals are no means new to Indian penology. In ancient India, the emphasis was on correcting the offender rather than punishing him indiscriminately. Manu, in his famous writings, made it clear that unjust and severe punishment makes the criminal more dangerous to society, and also brings bad reputation to administrators of law. He urged that offenders be placed in an environment where they can think and realize for themselves that what they are doing is not in the public interest and not in their own interest. This sense of fulfillment can lead to the rehabilitation of offenders much sooner than putting them in a locked prison. Thus, Manu argued emphatically that an effective aftercare scheme could certainly aid in the rehabilitation of even the most hardened habitual offenders.
In order to consider the development of modern open institutions in India, it is useful to trace their history back to the middle of the nineteenth century, when the first All India Prison Committee was appointed in 1836 to review the administration of prisons in India. The committee, in its report, disapproved of the use of prisoners for major public works, and over the next twenty years the system appears to have fallen into disuse. A second prison committee was appointed in 1864 to review the administration of the prison. In 1877, the issue of hiring prisoners for large construction projects such as canals, dams, etc. was raised again at the Prison Conference of the same year. The conference strongly recommended that the use of prisoners as labor force in major public works be not only a valuable but also a necessary addition to prison administration. Subsequently, this recommendation was accepted and implemented in practice.
In 1919–1920, the All India Prison Committee reiterated the need for humane treatment of offenders. Committee Chairman Sir Alexander Cardew observed that the most critical movement in a prisoner’s life is not when he enters prison, but when he leaves it. Having lost his character and social position, it is difficult for him to adapt to the normal life of a free society.
In 1920–1927, several provincial governments set up committees to review prison administration. They recommended far-reaching changes. But the question of the employment of prisoners did not go beyond the expansion of handicraft in prisons.
The post-independence era in India saw sweeping changes in prison policy and the way offenders were treated. The old method of holding prisoners in heavily guarded prisons was abandoned as they served no useful purpose for the rehabilitation of criminals after their release. With the development of knowledge about humane behavior, the role of the psychosocial environment in the development of the offender began to be emphasized. It was realized that prisoners should be given the fullest opportunity to have their association with a free society, and the gap between life inside and outside of prison should be narrowed as much as possible. Outdoor camps have done an excellent job in achieving this goal.
The first scientific attempt to modernize a prison in India was made Walter Rekless. UN technical expert who made visit to India in year 1952 when he presented an excellent report on the administration of prisons in India. Consequently, the All India Prison Committee was appointed, which served for three years and made useful recommendations for prison reforms. One of the recommendations of the Prison Committee was the creation of open prisons for the rehabilitation of prisoners. The emphasis in this system was on self-discipline and self-help.These open prisons were characterized a lack of material and physical safeguards against escape to encourage the inmates to develop a sense of responsibility towards the group in which they live. The main characteristics of an open prison are noted below:-
- The open prison scheme for prisoners is essentially based on the probation and parole systems, which have become quite popular as correctional methods
- free and close contact between staff and prisoners, as well as between prisoners themselves
- the influence of religious, moral and socio-economic activities in connection with a free society
- informal and institutional living in small groups with a minimum measure of guardianship
- permanent and paid work, work experience under the supervision of specialists as a method of reformation
- ensuring a healthy group dynamics of the personality of prisoners
- avoid unnecessary prolonged detention