While every prison is a chance for countless convicts to rehabilitate and reform, an open jail in Nettukaltheri, Kerala, is bringing out the true essence of reformation through their programmes.
Situated just about 35 km away from the busy city of Thiruvananthapuram is the serene and breezy hills of Nettukaltheri. Although the climate is admirable, the biggest attraction of this village is the open jail which is home to around 390 inmates.
But what makes it truly one of its kind is the 474 acres of land surrounding the jail, which is cultivated by the inmates bringing in Rs 2 crore annually!
With 200 acres of rubber plantation, a 20-acre vegetable garden, a dairy farm, a goat farm, a poultry farm and even a check dam for irrigation purposes and freshwater fish cultivation, this open jail is the highest income generating jail in Kerala.
A Green Jail
Founded in 1962, this jail has no lockups and follows a dormitory system. Prisoners with good conduct are selected from the central jails across the state to reside and participate in cultivation at the Nettukaltheri jail.
The inmates begin cultivation activities at 5.54 a.m. in the two campuses of the jail — 274 acres in Nettukaltheri and 200 acres in Thevancode village about 8 km away that the forest department has provided.
Deputy Inspector General and Superintendent of The Open Prison, Sam Thankayyan says, “The system that we’ve adopted here at the open prison allows the inmates to make the most of their time and feel productive throughout. And when it comes to the cultivation, in particular, feeling of satisfaction that is experienced is truly something else.”
With 20 acres of organic vegetable cultivation, the farm is home to fresh spinach, cauliflower, cabbage, long beans, ladies finger, red ladies finger, long beans, cucumber and strawberries. After keeping aside the requisite harvest for the jail mess, the remaining is sold through their sale units garnering an income of Rs. 10 lakh annually.
“We’ve adopted a drip irrigation system for the watering of the plants and we use organic fertilisers and pesticides. It is made of the cow dung from the dairy farm along with the vegetable waste and dry leaves,” says Chief Jail Warden Sajikumar.
Besides profits from the vegetable garden, one of the major sources of income for the prison is from the 200 acres of a rubber plantation that makes 1000 rubber sheets every day and generates upto Rs 1 crore annually.
“We set aside 60 inmates for the latex tapping alone. They start their work early in the morning and dry the rubber sheet under the sun. In between the rubber farms we’ve also set up platforms for honey bee cultivation,” Sajikumar adds.
Alongside crops, the open jail also has a large number of animals with 50 cows, 50 goats, 20 buffaloes and a poultry farm which produces eggs worth Rs 6 lakh every year.
And the water for the irrigation is sourced from a check dam where they’ve managed to also grow freshwater fish like rohu, tilapia and catla.
Finding The Right Inmates
Every inmate in the open jail is given an amount of Rs 230 per day for the work they do and the total amount will be transferred to their account when they are released. They are also allotted 15-day parole for every 75 days in the prison.
“The inmates at the open jail are very carefully selected. A selection committee that consists of the central prison superintendent, zonal director general of police, chief welfare officer, central prison medical officer and open prison superintendent select disciplined inmates who have completed three years at the state’s central jails,” explains Sam.
“The atmosphere that we’ve created here is very pleasant. The inmates are allowed to walk around freely and even have a recreational centre along with a library with more than 20,000 books. The basic idea is to help the inmates attain a life of self-discipline and so far I think we’ve been able to achieve that,” he adds.
Right beside the 20-acre vegetable garden, the open jail has set up a carpentry workshop where 10-15 inmates make furniture for the jail and even nearby schools.
“The work done by these carpenters are super professional and there is no compensation for the quality of work done here. With the lockdown in place, we’ve even started mask stitching and have started selling them at nominal prices which have helped during the shortage that was experienced during the pandemic,” says Saji Kumar.
Besides carpentry, some skilled inmates also involve themselves in A/C and fridge mending, electrical wiring and computer animation.
“We have inmates who have been here for more than 20 years and almost 250 of them have been sentenced for life imprisonment but we’ve been able to see the gradual change in the attitude towards life throughout these years and involving themselves in activities like farming has helped this process to a great extent,” he concludes.
The work done by the inmates in Nettukaltheri has not only benefited the environment and the society to a large extent but also gives the inmates the courage, skill and the savings to start a new life after serving their time.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)