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In aid of prison inmates

Calcutta: Bail alone cannot ensure the release of an accused from custody. He or she has to furnish a bail bond, too, a requirement that often remains unfulfilled because of inadequate access to the legal aid system.

Officials in the correctional home services said thousands of men and women were languishing in jails across the state even after getting bail because of their inability to pay the bail bond.

The count has declined over the years and can be further brought down with prompt intervention of the legal aid system, sources said.

Twenty-seven officers - including welfare officers, and controllers and assistant controllers from correctional homes across the state - attended a one-day workshop on welfare issues faced by jail inmates. The workshop was titled Welfare Behind Bars - Recent Developments.

The workshop focused on ways to strengthen the inmates' access to legal services, establish video-conference links between courts and correctional homes and address issues related to vulnerable categories such as women, the mentally challenged, foreign nationals and asylum seekers.

Arijit Mukhopadhyay, secretary, district legal services authority, South 24-Parganas - a wing of the state correctional services that provides legal aid to inmates - stressed the need for "better coordination among all stakeholders" to improve prison management and implement the standard operating procedures.

"When we come across such cases (of inmates stuck in jail for their failure to furnish the bail bond), we generally refer the matter to the respective judges and appoint lawyers for the inmates. The inmates may then be released on a personal bond. The idea is to give the inmates an opportunity to return to the mainstream and contribute to society," Mukhopadhyay said.

An inmate being granted bail at times lack the money to furnish the bond that will allow him or her to walk out of jail. In such a situation, a lawyer has to plead with the judge to release the inmate on a personal bond, which does not require any money.

However, in the absence of proper access to the legal aid services, the personal bond remains elusive to the accused who cannot afford to hire lawyers.

Among the other topics the workshop discussed were lack of mental health care in prisons. The 59 correctional homes in Bengal have only three clinical psychologists. "Universities and students of psychology can be requested to make up for the shortfall," an official suggested at the workshop.

Madhurima Dhanuka, a coordinator for prison reforms programme of the NGO Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, cited figures to stress the fact that Bengal had the highest number of foreign nationals in jail and spoke about their rights.

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