According to the National Crime Records Bureau’s Prison Statistics India 2003, there are 1,140 jails in India with a capacity of 233,543, whereas the total number of inmates in these jails is 326,519, with 96% of them male.
It is common knowledge that health is a real issues in jails; those who are weak and not influential suffer from various maladies, and those who are rich and well connected use health as a pretext to spend time in hospital. But this sad trend is slowly changing. The Sabarmati jail in Ahmedabad has created history by making health and education available right inside the prison, a model that can be emulated nationally.
“Quality healthcare is everyone’s right,” says Keshav Kumar, inspector general (IG), prisons, Gujarat. “We have connected the Sabarmati jail, Apollo Hospital and Gujarat Vidyapeeth through an Isro (Indian Space Research Organisation) satellite. Apollo Hospital would be providing telemedicine while Gujarat Vidyapeeth would be providing the education inputs to the inmates. This is the first of its kind in the country.”
Under the law, once a person is in judicial custody, his/her health and well-being becomes the absolute responsibility of the state, supplemented by laws handed down by apex courts. It is with this vision that the Sabarmati jail established the health and education facilities using information technology (IT) tools. The Manthan Award jury this year shortlisted this initiative, hoping that other Indian prisons and prison authorities will follow heed.
The use introduction of information and communication technology, or ICT, tools inside the jails is not new. Last year, when the Jharkhand government hosted the Manthan Award jury in Ranchi, officials showed the jurors a newly built jail campus on the outskirts of Ranchi. The Ranchi jail has not only made the entire jail IT-enabled in terms of automation, but has also dedicated a centre for ICT skills education with the help of CORE Technologies, a Mumbai-based IT and education solutions company. Yet, I could not see any health services available in the Ranchi jail.
The multi-stakeholder model at Sabarmati jail is an indication of how various service providers can enable great service at a very low cost. In this case, Isro is providing the satellite voluntarily to connect Apollo Hospitals to the health centre within the prison campus. IG Kumar explains: “The Martyr Maj. Ramani Memorial Diagnostic Centre has helped make things smoother for inmates. All basic diagnostic facilities like ECG (electrocardiography), USG (ultrasonography)and X-ray are available on location. The reports from these machines can be transmitted to consultants at Apollo Hospital for expert opinion on the spot.”
The Sabarmati jail has spent around Rs5 lakh on various equipment and is spending Rs4,000 per month as the connectivity cost for the usage of the satellite link for two hours daily. During these hours of connectivity, everybody converges online and in real-time—the inmate patients, the expert doctors at Apollo, and the jail doctors with all reports and preliminary diagnosis. Test reports, diagnoses and recommendations are exchanged seamlessly.
Using the connectivity, the Sabarmati jail also plans to impart vocational skills through virtual classrooms for inmates. Through this distant learning medium ,Gujarat Vidyapeeth is scripting an important chapter in the history of Indian prison reform.
Osama Manzar is founder and director of Digital Empowerment Foundation and chairman of Manthan Award. He has recently released his third title “Digital Inclusion for Development—Cases from India and South Asia”. He can be reached at email@example.com