How would there be effective law and order situation in the country when jails that are supposed to reforms criminals only help to make them more committed outlaws? Here is a report.
Anil Tamang of Nagarkot, Bhaktapur, was barely eighteen when he was first caught for stealing. That was in 1996. He was put behind bars for three years for stealing Rs 7,000 and jewelry set from a residence at Sano Gaucharan.
The jail term should have taught Tamang a life-long lesson. But it didn't. Tamang, now 30, has landed in jail five times. And each time he comes out he is a more committed and emboldened robber - his appetite for serious crime growing proportionately.
Tamang's is a typical story of how a young, rookie criminal turns into a hardened and ruthless gangster, thanks to our faulty criminal justice system, lack of correctional centers, unforgiving society, and ever growing unemployment in the country.
Take for instance, our Civil Code, enacted in 1964. The code was formulated with the assumption that crimes are mostly unintentional and individual. "Now crime has become deliberate, organized and hi-tech, and we need up-to-date laws," says Senior Superintendent of Police Upendra Kanta Aryal, chief of Metropolitan Police Crime Division (MPCD), Hanumandhoka.
He has a point. The Civil Code demands full evidence in cases of crime and theft. The police should be able to present the stolen articles or cash for the accused to qualify for full punishment provisioned under law - 12 years of imprisonment in case of dacoity.
"However, in cases such as robbery, mugging and looting we can hardly produce fool-proof evidence in court," argues an official with MPCD, Hanumandhoka. "It is even more difficult to gather evidence when the culprit is nabbed after a considerable period of time," he added. Police argue that things would have been different if courts considered the First Information Reports (FIR) filed by the victims.
Criminals, sadly, are aware of this legal loophole. So they either destroy the evidence or hide it successfully before they are nabbed. The police case then becomes a mere allegation and even if they are convicted in the court of law they get minimum punishment and are freed after some time. Soon they are back in business-as-usual.
This is exactly the lesson from Tamang's case. Just 40 days after he walked out of jail in 1999, he joined a group and broke into a house at Bhimsengola and made off with cash and jewelry worth 100,000 rupees.
Police nabbed him again and his accomplices confessed that he was involved in at least seven burglaries since he was freed.
"As it is difficult to bring sufficient evidence before the court, he is likely to be released again within the next few months," Bharat Bahadur Thapa, a Sub Inspector with MPCD said.
The legal laxity is only a part of the problem, however. The absence of correctional centers for criminals is another reason why individuals relapse into crime once they are freed. What is worse, according to police officials, is that these petty crooks come into contact with notorious criminals. They hear stories of the underworld and the exploits of the veterans, and learn sophisticated crime techniques. The jail, instead of serving as a correctional centre only works to train the amateurs.
Raju Dhanukhe, 25, of Bhimeshwor Municipality-9, Dolakha admitted that when he came into contact with other gangsters while in prison it emboldened him to get involved in major robberies. According to MPCD, Hanumandhoka, Dhanukhe, a goldsmith by profession, was first sent to jail some four years ago on a charge of buying gold jewelry from dacoits.
In the span of four years, he was involved in four separate robberies. "I was kept with notorious burglars and dacoits. In those days in prison we used to talk about how to commit crimes, escape from police and amass wealth," he said.
But the prisons themselves are not to blame for keeping all types of criminals together. Most of the prison buildings date back over 150 years and simply don't have enough room.
According to the Department of Prison Management (), there are some 6,500 inmates currently serving term in 74 prisons around the country. Most of the district prisons outside Kathmandu valley do not have the capacity to accommodate more than 50 inmates at any given time. "We transfer prisoners to the nearest prison when faced with a space problem," said Rudra Khadka, chief of jail administration at the DoPM.
The overcrowded prisons have failed to draw the attention of successive governments even after the restoration of democracy in 1990. When the government has failed to tackle the problem of physical space forget about counseling, training and other correctional measures.
"The budget we get from the government is barely sufficient to cover our regular expenditure and utility bills. We manage with the occasional support of various I/NGOs and other donors for basic improvements," added Khadka.
Our social norms and unforgiving culture are also to blame. Once a person gets involved in petty crime he or she is hardly given a chance to improve. "If my family had not rejected me after my first crime, my life could have taken a different course," laments Tamang.