The Supreme Court has emphasised that denying premature release to prisoners who have endured lengthy periods of incarceration can crush their spirit, breed despair, and reflect a society’s inclination to be harsh and unforgiving.
The apex court highlighted that such denial completely undermines the concept of rewarding prisoners for good conduct and has ordered the immediate release of a murder convict who has already spent 26 years in custody. This 67-year-old individual had been convicted of killing a woman in 1994.
The man’s request for remission had been considered by the jail advisory board on nine occasions. On three occasions, the board recommended his premature release, but the Kerala government rejected the proposal each time.
A bench of Justice S Ravindra Bhat and Justice Dipankar Datta raised questions about the rationality of continued punishment regardless of the moral implications. The court stated that persistently adhering to guidelines without considering the real impact of a prisoner’s good behaviour and other relevant factors violates Article 14 (equality before the law) of the Constitution.
Excluding the possibility of premature release for prisoners who have served extended periods of incarceration not only diminishes their spirit and instils despair but also signifies society’s determination to be unrelenting and severe, the court stated.
The bench also noted that Rule 376 of the Kerala Prisons and Correctional Services (Management) Rules, 2014, mandates the grant of remission for maintaining peace and good behaviour in prison.
The man sought a directive from the state government for his premature release, as he had been in actual imprisonment for over 26 years and had served a sentence of more than 35 years, including over 8 years of earned remission.
In ordering the immediate release of the convict, the Supreme Court took into account records presented by the state indicating that the man had earned over 8 years of remission, demonstrating his good conduct in prison. The minutes of the jail advisory board meetings also reflected positively on his character, describing him as hardworking, disciplined, and a reformed inmate.
It deemed it cruel to redirect the petitioner, who had already served more than 26 years of incarceration (and more than 35 years of punishment with remission), to undergo reconsideration by the advisory board and subsequently the state government for premature release, akin to providing a mere salve to combat a raging fire in the name of procedure.
The bench underscored that prison laws in India fundamentally aim at reform. It pointed out that adhering to a guideline that prohibits consideration of premature release requests for convicts who have served over 20 or 25 years, solely based on the nature of the past crime, could extinguish the life force of such individuals entirely.
As an example, the court cited a scenario where a 19 or 20-year-old individual convicted of a crime listed as ineligible for premature release would spend a lifetime behind bars and never experience freedom. This approach failed to consider the potential transformation of individuals who may have committed offences as young individuals but evolved significantly over time.