Remarking that there is no uniformity in India with regards to the remission and premature release of convicts, the Telangana High Court has observed that there is a need for making a "comprehensive policy for rehabilitation" which should include premature release.
A single judge bench comprising of Justice K Lakshman observed thus:
"India does not have a Uniform Policy for premature release of prisoners. The law provides for executive remissions, which is completely based on discretion. The said discretion is based on the basis of guidelines framed at state level. There is no minimum standard that the states have to keep in mind when drafting these schemes."
Furthermore, it said:
"Comprehensive policy for rehabilitation should be made and premature release should be made as part of the said policy. The focus of criminal justice system should be to punish those deserving a sentence. After the purpose of sentence has been served, attempt should be made for re-socialization of prisoners. A premature release policy must be backed up with a proper rehabilitation plan. Thus, the society can get the benefit out of release of a prisoner. It is highly idealistic to consider the idea of reformation in Indian Jails, but a system of premature release based on irrational criteria does not help. This can ultimately be linked to the absence of a proper sentencing regime."
The crucial observations came while dealing with a bunch of petitions filed by kith and kin of convicts sentenced to life imprisonment for grant of remission in view of the earlier order passed by the Court directing the authorities to recommend names of such life convicts for grant of their special remission in terms of the remission policy.
Analyzing the relevant provisions, judgments on the subject and history of remission policy in India, the Court observed that there is a "demand of having a reformatory criminal justice system".
Demand of Abolition of Death Penalty
Noting that there is a demand to abolish death penalty throughout the World which is serious especially in India, the Court took note of the fact that respective States have issued remission policy and guidelines from time to time.
"Referring to the serious discussion among the Intellectuals in the Globe, in one of the Articles, it is mentioned that International norms do not support life sentences without a possibility of release. Life-convicts should be eligible for release into society once they have served sufficient period of time in the prison to mark the seriousness of their offences." The Court observed at the outset.
The Court also took note of the fact that there is a "global trend is towards individualizing and humanizing punishment" and that the same "indicates a mechanism that is customized to meet the needs of each individual who is found guilty of a crime".
"The punishment should fit the person and not other way around. The recognition of the human element in punishment has paved the way towards abolition of death penalty in International Law. However, by virtue of its existence in an additional protocol to ICCPR, abolition still cannot claim the status of a binding norm." the Court said.
No Uniformity in Policy for Premature Release of Convicts
Furthermore, remarking that there is no uniformity in policy for premature release of convicts in India, the Court said that "there is no minimum standard that the states have to keep in mind when drafting these schemes."
"The National Human Rights Commission has asked the Ministry of Law and Justice to frame a policy, but there is no progress in the same so far. The Apex Court has also given directions to both the States and Central Governments to frame uniform policy. There is no progress as of now. All the States have formulated their own remission policies / guidelines for premature release. Thus, in India, there is no uniformity with regard to the remission and premature release of convicts." The Court observed at the outset.
Rehabilitation Policy and Premature Release
The Court also observed that one of the most important executive powers relating to a prisoner is the power to release a prisoner prior to the completion of the time mentioned in the sentence.
"There is a serious debate on the comprehensive rehabilitation policy. There is criticism that the premature release from prison is perceived as an escape from the pernicious influence of the prison. Prisons are considered as breeding grounds for criminal minds. The primary focus of prison policy must be rehabilitation." The Court said further.
Citing example of allowing the convicts to pursue their education by appearing for examinations of Open Universities, the Court said that such skill development is a part of "Reformatory Criminal Justice System".
"Comprehensive policy for rehabilitation should be made and premature release should be made as part of the said policy. The focus of criminal justice system should be to punish those deserving a sentence. After the purpose of sentence has been served, attempt should be made for re-socialization of prisoners." The Court said.
Coming to the individual facts of the writ petitions and cases involving remission of sentence of life convicts, the Court directed the State to consider their representations and to also consider the "actual sentence and the total sentence completed" by the respective life-convicts including the remand period and remission earned and the principle laid down by the Apex Court and other High Courts.
The Court also directed the authority to consider the directions laid down by the Supreme Court in RE: CONTAGION OF COVID 19 VIRUS IN PRISONS and its earlier order dated 14th September 2020.