Understanding Budgets for Correctional Facilities
#5 Understanding Budgets for Correctional Facilities with Studio Nilima, 18th February 2022
Justice Hub and Civis hosted the 5th Twitter Spaces conversation with Anubhab Atreya from Studio Nilima. Studio Nilima is a research collective based in Assam, working in the area of prison reforms and also providing legal services and legal interventions for inmates in correctional homes. Here is a recap of the stories that emerged from the discussion.
What got Studio Nilima interested in exploring budget data on prisons?
At the beginning of Studio Nilima’s work, the budget was not a focal point of consideration but during the process of understanding correctional homes and their ecosystem, it was realised that budget plays an important role.
The prison budget is intertwined with public policies regulating correctional homes.
Budgetary allocations are demarcated in connection with the statutes.
This has a direct impact on the human rights of the inmate who is inhabiting the space of the correctional home.
What forms a start in understanding how prison budgeting happens in India, and what kind of data should be looked into?
Budget data is overwhelming for those from a non-economic background. As an organisation, Studio Nilima tends to look at the prison budgets from primarily 2 aspects:
The Institutional Framework of Prisons: For any researcher who is interested in budgetary data of prisons, it is important that they have a basic understanding of its institutional framework. This consists of a variety of state laws and regulations and jail manuals (formulated by the state governments). Resources such as Open Budgets India and Auditory Reports from the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) also aid in understanding data about budgets.
The Lived Realities: Lived reality, i.e the voices of the inmates with whom the organisation meets or interacts, form the basis of understanding of the areas that need prioritisation in prison reforms. Experiences through the years have suggested that “the data that one gets from the institutions have some inherent silences within that really mask the voice of the average inmate.”
Studio Nilima had undertaken some really interesting research on assessing the nutrition and health budgets for Assam’s prisons. Could you tell us a little more about it and some of the key findings from it?
The state of nutrition in Indian correctional homes has always been a major concern, with a lot of anecdotal evidence suggesting, and a series of RTI requests (in Assam) corroborating that gastrointestinal disorder is the most common health concern in jail hospitals. In Assam, this is due to-
The unscientific approach of determining the diet on basis of weight and not calories (means, that an inmate is provided with a certain gram of food in a day instead of giving the calories that they need).
Prison lock-up time is 6 PM, after which an inmate does not have any access to food until the next morning, which would automatically lead to gastrointestinal disorders.
This information, when analysed with respect to budgets shows -
There has been a consistent underbudgeting since 2015.
The knowledge of the problem has yet to reach the right stakeholders.
That as there is no regulatory backing, it is difficult for policymakers to ensure the allocation of the budget.
Studio Nilima is trying to ensure that the Model Prison Manual 2016, which has a well set out approach towards nutrition, gets implemented as soon as possible in Assam.
How do you make some of your research actionable to improve the prison system in our country?
Co-production of knowledge: Communication bottleneck is one of the major reasons behind a lot of problems that are commonly contemplated as system issues. To disentangle this web of miscommunication, the various stakeholders are brought to the same table to debate, find the problems, and solve them through dialogues.
One such problem that was resolved through dialogue was the incorrect filing of jail appeals by the prison superintendent. In Assam, there was a huge pendency of these appeals due to incorrect formatting and a conversation with the various stakeholders (the judiciary, the correctional home officers) brought clarity to the miscommunication and the impact could be seen within months.
Strategic Litigation: Some situations cannot be resolved through dialogues, for these, Studio Nilima approaches the Courts, trying to ensure that there is an intervention by the judiciary.
This was done to seek implementation of the Mental Healthcare Act in the correctional homes of Assam, which was not being done. This resulted in regular monitoring of the implementation of the Act in jails by the High Court.
What are the top 3 points on your Wishlist that can transform budgetary data?
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