Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer has eloquently stated, “Every saint has a past, and every sinner a future, never write off the man wearing the criminal attire but remove the dangerous degeneracy in him, restore his retarded human potential by holistic healing of his fevered, fatigued or frustrated inside and by repairing the repressive, though hidden, injustice of the social order which is vicariously guilty of the criminal behaviour of many innocent convicts.” His words underscore the transformative power of a compassionate approach to criminal justice, one that seeks to rehabilitate rather than merely punish.

At the heart of this philosophy lies the concept of open prisons, a revolutionary model that challenges conventional notions of incarceration. These institutions, based on the principles of self-discipline and trust, offer a humane and reformative environment for selected inmates, providing them with opportunities for personal growth, skill development, and eventual reintegration into society.

The Open Prison Model: A Humane Approach

An open prison can be understood as a penal establishment where prisoners serve their sentences with minimal supervision and territorial security, without being confined to cells. This concept draws from the wisdom of Sir Alexander Paterson, who famously stated, “A man is sent to prison as punishment and not for punishment.”

The open prison model combines the best elements of parole, probation, and closed prisons, yet it is not a routine process of prisoner transfer. Instead, a screening committee meticulously evaluates inmates’ mental and physical fitness, behavioural conduct, and reformatory potential before deeming them eligible for transfer to these semi-open or open institutions.

The Hindi film “Do Aankhen Barah Haath” (1957) serves as a moving depiction of the open prison concept in India, portraying a young warden who transforms six notorious murderers into virtuous individuals through hard work and kind guidance on a dilapidated farm.

Variations and Success Stories

The Model Prison Manual classifies open prison institutions in India into three types: 

  1. Semi-Open Training Institutions are attached to closed prisons just beyond the enclosed perimeter and are under relatively high-security surveillance. Prisoners showing reformation potential may be transferred to open prisons and colonies.
  1. Open Training Institutions/Work Camps are established where activities like digging canals, constructing dams, building roads, and land reclamation can be organized.
  1. In Open Colonies, inmates can bring their families. Both inmates and family members can work in agriculture, cottage industries, or other suitable livelihoods, earning wages at par with those outside. They maintain themselves and their families with these wages.

Success stories abound, such as the open prison campus in Anantapur, Andhra Pradesh, where inmates cultivate medicinal herbs and crops, earning a livelihood and gaining valuable agricultural skills. 

The Shri Sampurnanand Khula Bandi Shivir in Sanganer, Rajasthan, is unique in allowing convicts to live with their families, build their own houses, and work within a 10-km radius, fostering a sense of responsibility and community.

Legal Recognition and Advantages

The Supreme Court of India has recognized the merits of open prisons. In Ramamurthy vs. State of Karnataka (1997), the court observed that open prisons represent one of the most successful applications of the principle of individualization of penalties, aiming at social readjustment. In Dharmbir vs. State of Uttar Pradesh (1979), the apex court highlighted the advantages of open prisons for young offenders, protecting them from issues prevalent in conventional jails.


Open prisons embody a paradigm shift in our approach to criminal justice, one that prioritizes reformation over mere retribution. By fostering an environment of trust, responsibility, and skill development, these institutions offer a glimmer of hope for those who have strayed from the path of righteousness. 

In an age where mass incarceration rates remain alarmingly high, open prisons represent a beacon of hope, a testament to the belief that every individual deserves a second chance at a fulfilling life. By embracing this model, we not only rediscover our shared humanity but also pave the way for a more just and compassionate society.

Contributed by-

Saachi Minocha

National Law University, Jodhpur (2023-28)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This field is required.

This field is required.


The following disclaimer governs the use of this website (“Website”) and the services provided by the Law offices of Kr. Vivek Tanwar Advocate & Associates in accordance with the laws of India. By accessing or using this Website, you acknowledge and agree to the terms and conditions stated in this disclaimer.

The information provided on this Website is for general informational purposes only and should not be considered as legal advice or relied upon as such. The content of this Website is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship between you and the Law Firm. Any reliance on the information provided on this Website is done at your own risk.

The Law Firm makes no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, regarding the accuracy, completeness, reliability, or suitability of the information contained on this Website.

The Law Firm disclaims all liability for any errors or omissions in the content of this Website or for any actions taken in reliance on the information provided herein. The information contained in this website, should not be construed as an act of solicitation of work or advertisement in any manner.