-By Mannat Marwah
Parole or furlough is the temporary release of a prisoner before they have completed their sentence, on a conditional basis. Rules relating to parole and furlough are enshrined under the Prison Act, 1894 and the Prisoner Act, 1900. Each state has its own rules governing parole and furlough with only minor differences. Parole or furlough does not amount to a suspension of sentence as was held in Sunil Fulchand Shah v. Union of India.
Once a convict applies for parole or furlough, the Superintendent of Police asks the relevant police station for a detailed report including facts such as the antecedents of the convict in question, their behaviour while incarcerated, their medical report etc. This report is forwarded to the Divisional Commissioner for parole and the Deputy Inspector General of Prisons in case of furlough, who then decides whether parole is to be permitted or rejected.
Parole and furlough, seem to be the same concept but actually differ both substantively and procedurally. Furlough is a right and is granted periodically, whereas parole is granted only on specific grounds such as a death, wedding, health emergency, etc. and is not a right. It was observed in Asfaq v. State of Rajasthan that furlough is granted in long term sentences and may be granted solely to maintain contact with family, while parole is granted in short term sentences. A limitation of only three spells, the first being three weeks long and the other two being two weeks long exists in the case of furlough while parole can be granted as many times as need may be, but must not exceed four weeks in a year as held in Bharat Singh v. State of Madhya Pradesh. However, as both amount to a temporary suspension of sentence, they have been used in a complementary sense in this article.
Many influential persons find ways to obtain easy parole or furlough and escape from bearing the brunt of their actions. Many others, after obtaining parole or furlough, abscond from the criminal justice system, never to return. This is called jumping parole, in layman’s terms.
As per the National Crime Records Bureau’s (hereinafter NCRB) recent report on Prison Statistics, in 2019, 26,390 persons were released on parole, out of which 205 persons jumped parole and absconded. 125 absconders were arrested later on. As per another eye-opening report, from the years 2004 to 2014, 8900 convicts were reported to have skipped parole, only 2062 of which could be nabbed by the police.
Balance of Rights of Affected Parties
The purpose of parole and furlough both is to aid prisoners in reintegrating with civil society while they are incarcerated. Therefore, from the point of view of the prisoner, it is a privilege granted to them with the expectation that after attending to the emergent situation, the convict would be back to serve the remainder of their sentence. As observed in the historic case of Morrissey v. Brewer, from the perspective of the state, parole helps ease some pressure off the overcrowded prisons and reduces the costs borne by it for their confinement.
While discussing rights of both parties involved, it is imperative to stress upon the fact that it is available only to convicts. As per NCRB data, the average national conviction rate was a lowly 23.7% for crimes against women and 35.2% for crimes against children in 2019. Moreover, as per the same data, out of the 31,12,639 persons arrested under cases of IPC offences, only 8,37,075 were actually convicted, testimonial to the grim reality that wheels of justice indeed turn slowly in India. Therefore, being a convict would mean that there was indisputable evidence against the accused, a feat that may take up years, a herculean task indeed! Such proven criminals, by way of misusing their influence or jumping parole or furlough, defeat the efforts of justice seekers, thereby creating a disbalance of rights.
The case of a parole jumper with charges of rape and murder upon him who was caught in the midst of hatching a plot to kill a woman is one of the thousands that plague the criminal justice system today. By way of jumping parole, hardened criminals find their way back into civil society and continue with their criminal antecedents. This creates an even greater disbalance in the society, with convicted felons roaming free, putting society at risk.
Possible Reasons for Misuse
The most common way of misusing parole or furlough is by using one’s influence. It has been observed that influential persons get parole or furlough rather easily and are able to get back to their glamourous lives once they are out. The convict in the infamous Jessica Lal murder case was found clubbing while on parole. His reasoning of applying for parole was the passing of his grandmother, which had happened a year ago and the illness of his mother, which was also found to be a false fact.
There exists no follow up mechanism to keep tabs on those who are let go on parole or furlough. Some judicial precedents such as the case of Dinesh Kumar v. Govt. of NCT of Delhi which held that seriousness of offence committed cannot be the only factor to reject parole or furlough and the situation and reasons of the convict must be considered provide offenders with leeway to cheat the judicial system and jump parole or furlough.
Lack of communication between police authorities of different jurisdictions in cases of inter-state travel while on parole is another relevant factor. This loophole has come to light many a times such as in the case of a murderer incarcerated in Nashik, Maharashtra, who obtained parole to visit family in Uri, Jammu and Kashmir. It was only three months after his parole lapsed that the police officials realized he has not returned. Failure to inform Jammu and Kashmir police that a convicted parolee would be present in their jurisdiction was found to be the reason for such a lapse.
Parolees often end up committing crimes while on parole such as in the case of Saibanna v. State of Karnataka wherein a person serving a life sentence was granted parole and released for a month, during which he murdered his second wife and child in cold blood. Such cases are a dangerous reality check that the system is broken somewhere and in urgent need of repair.
For an efficient assessment of parole eligibility, the most suited rule would be the one that follows an individualistic approach. Weighing in all the positive and negative aspects, thereby only releasing those offenders who have responded well to the institutional program and would no longer prove to be a threat to society. This way, the interests of both parties are met as by retaining certain offenders who are not ready for reintegration, protection is afforded to the society by preventing the influx of hardened criminals who may indulge in criminal activity again.
As also suggested by the Ministry of Home Affairs via guidelines to the Chief Secretaries and DGPs of states, the inclusion of a psychologist or criminologist in the committee that decides upon applications of parole and furlough would be useful in assessing their condition. Their input would be valuable in concluding if the convicts have reformed or may engage in crime again, once released on parole or furlough., in accordance with Rule 78 of United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. Follow up mechanisms and measures should be put in place to keep checking the whereabouts of persons released on parole and furlough.
Parole and furlough should be granted with extra caution in cases involving heinous offences following the observation in Dinesh Kumar v. Govt. of NCT of Delhi The report furnished before the authorities, containing the case history and behaviour of the convict must be carefully scrutinized. The decision makers must be well equipped with knowledge about the convict to ensure that they can make the right call and, at the same time, not compromise social security. The reasons being provided for applying for parole must also be thoroughly enquired upon and confirmed. The convict in question may also misuse their parole or furlough by harassing witnesses, seeking vengeance or even tampering evidence, all possibilities that must be considered before approving their application.
As per Rule 4 of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, the purpose of deprivation of a prisoner’s liberty by way of incarceration is to protect society from crime and reduce recidivism, i.e. the likelihood of an offender to commit crime again. Ever increasing statistics of parole and furlough jumping and failure to curb it defeat these very purposes. Dr Martin Luther King has famously said, “Injustice anywhere is threat to justice everywhere.” By failing to complete their sentence or ensure their fitness of rehabilitation in society, convicts endanger the safety of everyone, including their own, causing injustice everywhere. If such incidents continue to happen, the system runs a risk of people losing their faith in it, causing unrest in civil society. Measures must be taken to put an end to this phenomenon and ensure that the criminal justice system functions efficiently and satisfactorily thereby striking a balance between social security and human rights of the convict.
[The author is a third year student, pursuing B.B.A. LLB. at Symbiosis Law School Noida]