Prison authorities in the eastern Indian state of Bihar’s Purnia district are planning to install an Automated Teller Machine (ATM) at the district jail for prisoners to use.
Though the move sounds benevolent and allows for inmates to have more control over their finances, the reason behind it was actually to avoid overcrowding at the prison gates, where families are permitted to pass on cash to their loved ones behind bars. The ATM, they believe, would put an end to this.
Jitendra Kumar, the superintendent of Purnia central jail said in a statement, “We have written a letter to the SBI [State Bank of India] in this regard and we do hope the ATM will be installed inside the jail in a fortnight. Out of 750 inmates, 600 have their accounts in various banks and 400 have been issued ATM cards and the rest would get it soon.”
In India, convicted prisoners get paid for doing work inside the jail, which can be voluntary or part of their punishment. Their remuneration varies depending on whether they can provide skilled, semi-skilled or unskilled services.
The 2015 statistics released by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) reveals that depending on the state and the level of skill, this fee can range from Rs 180 ($ 2.44) a day to as low as Rs 15 ($ 0.20). An inmate is allowed to keep up cash up to Rs 500 ($6.77) according to the jail manual.
The central jail of Purnia is the largest in the state of Bihar with 1,900 inmates, including 56 women. When the coronavirus outbreak took place, face masks were made by the inmates here and supplied to other jails.
The wages were paid by cheque till January 2019 to the inmates but now the money is directly transferred to their accounts. “The inmates can use cards to purchase daily use items like soaps, hair oil, eatables against the payment they receive for doing work on the premises,” Kumar added.
This isn’t the first time in India an ATM is being installed in a prison. In 2016, inmates at the Nagpur central jail were also provided with SBI ATM cards for the use inside the premises, but it was only for a pilot project. The idea behind this was to extend the ATM card facility to over 10,000 inmates in the central prisons across Maharashtra—but not much seems to have progressed on this front. The idea was that inmates could also use these cards once they were released, with the hope that this would help them save more money while serving their sentence.
According to a report, some prisoners have been able to walk out of the prison “rich” by making a lot of money while inside. They’ve also had a bank account on their name, along with cheque books, pass books and debit cards.
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