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Good Conduct and Early Release: SC

  • 03 Oct 2020
  • 6 min read

Why in News

Recently, the Supreme Court has held that the length of a prison sentence or the gravity of the crime cannot be the sole basis for denying a convict premature release from jail.

Key Points

  • Background:
    • The judgment came in a plea made by two prisoners who have been imprisoned for a botched kidnapping for ransom case in Uttar Pradesh.
    • They are in their early middle age with a record of good conduct in jail.
    • The court held that “their action of kidnapping was nothing but a fanciful attempt to procure easy money, for which they have learnt a painful life lesson” and ordered their release.
  • Judgement:
    • The three-judge bench held that an assessment of the tendency to commit a crime upon release “must be based on antecedents as well as the conduct of the prisoner while in jail, and not merely on his age or apprehensions of the victims and witnesses”.
    • Reformative justice should not merely focus on public harmony but should foster brotherhood and mutual acceptability.
    • First-time offenders should especially be given a second chance at life allowing them to look forward to a bright future.

Criminal Justice System in India

  • The Criminal Justice System refers to the agencies of government charged with enforcing the law, adjudicating crime, and correcting criminal conduct.
  • The criminal justice system is essentially an instrument of social control:
    • Society considers some behaviours so dangerous and destructive that it either strictly controls their occurrence or outlaws them outright.
    • It is the job of the agencies of justice to prevent these behaviours by apprehending and punishing transgressors or deterring their future occurrence.
  • Retributive Justice:
    • It is a system of criminal justice based on the punishment of offenders rather than on rehabilitation.
    • It holds that when an offender breaks the law, justice requires that they must suffer in return. It also requires that the response to a crime must be proportional to the committed offence.
  • Reformative or Restorative Justice:
    • It is generally the most appreciated theory of punishment as it believes in the concept that the object is to extinct crime and not the criminal.
    • It believes that nobody is born as a criminal and it is only the consequences of those circumstances which were around the offender/criminal.
  • Objective of Criminal Justice System:
    • To prevent the occurrence of crime.
    • To punish the transgressors and the criminals.
    • To rehabilitate the transgressors and the criminals.
    • To compensate the victims as far as possible.
    • To maintain law and order in society.
    • To deter offenders from committing any criminal act in the future.
  • Challenges:
    • Ineffectiveness: The system had to protect the rights of the innocents and punish the guilty, but nowadays it has become a tool of harassment for common people.
    • Pendency of Cases: According to Economic Survey 2018-19, there are about 3.5 crore cases pending in the judicial system, especially in the district and subordinate courts, which leads to the actualisation of the maxim “Justice delayed is justice denied”.
    • Huge Undertrials: India has one of the world’s largest number of undertrial prisoners.
    • Inefficiency of Police: Police being the front liner in the criminal judiciary system, plays a vital role in the administration of justice. However, corruption, huge workload and accountability of police is a major hurdle in speedy and transparent delivery of justice.
  • Solutions:
    • The reason for victimisation should be given a major thrust in reforming laws to identify the rights of crime victims.
    • The construction of new offences and reworking of the existing classification of offences must be guided by the principles of criminal jurisprudence which have substantially altered in the past four decades.
    • The classification of offences must be done in a manner conducive to the management of crimes in the future.
    • Guiding principles need to be developed after sufficient debate before criminalising an act as a crime.
    • The discretion of judges in deciding the quantum and nature of sentence differently for crimes of the same nature should be based on principles of judicial precedent.

Way Forward

  • Society has a right to lead a peaceful and fearless life, without free-roaming criminals creating havoc in the lives of ordinary peace-loving citizens.
  • However, equally strong is the foundation of reformative theory, which propounds that a civilised society cannot be achieved only through punitive attitudes and vindictiveness.
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