There was a time when Prasant (name changed) was dreaded by everyone in his locality. He has been in and out of the prison more than once on charges of bank robbery, till the prison authorities got him enrolled in the rehabilitation programme Unnati, conducted by psychologist Prof Beena Chintalapuri. The cognitive reformation initiative has transformed Prasant into a completely new person, who has just received his first paycheck at a day job and is willing to open a bank account like a free citizen. He falls short of words to express his gratitude towards Beena Chintalapuri, who was selected as an Ashoka Fellow in 2017, for her extraordinary work in bringing down the number of recidivists (repeat offenders) from 80% to 1%.
Beena Chintalapuri describes how the mindset of small-time criminals are shaped by their surrounding environment, and how her organisation, Unnati, is transforming their mindset to dream in positive colours.
No one has ever become poor by giving
– Anne Frank
Who are the repeat offenders?
“The general trend in most prisons show a higher proportion of repeat offenders. These are mostly petty criminals with records of theft, robbery, looting, property offence, drug dealing etc. The prison registers revealed that these prisoners were mostly young men, who would go out on bail, commit similar crimes and return to jail. For many, this pattern had almost turned into a routine,” narrates Beena. These prisoners generally serve short sentences between three months to three years.
- Due to an increased number of recidivists, there has been a 74% increase in the prison population.
- Overcrowded prisons are affected by unhygienic living conditions, which has resulted in the death of around 12000 prisoners in five years
Most of them were addicts who spent the money on alcohol or drugs. A considerable percentage of them belonged to low-income and less educated background, where the unhealthy environment was not conducive to help these directionless youngsters focus on a bright future.
After their release, many of these people are ostracised by their families or neighbours. They fail to regain their old jobs or businesses. People start branding them as ‘prisoners’, driving them to the path of crime again.