Community Sentencing in India
Authored By- Shreya Venkatesh
Keywords: Retributive Justice, Community service, re-assimilation, rehabilitation, recidivism
The Indian Criminal Justice system directs its main focus on the laws that have been broken, the wrongdoer or perpetrator and the sentence/punishment that he deserves. The system essentially focuses on retribution in meting out very harsh punishments to criminals. The concept of alternative sentencing or restorative justice, however, focuses on the victim, their needs and who is obligated to see that these needs are met. It also focuses on the two parties reaching an understanding and moving past it. This paper will focus on one method of restorative justice that isn’t widely implemented, called community sentencing.
Restorative justice is defined as a process wherein all involved parties come together to jointly resolve the conflict and the method of dealing with its aftermath and implications for the future. These programmes operate on the assumption that their response to a crime should be done with the intention of repairing the harm suffered by the victim to the extent possible. It further believes that offenders should come to understand the consequences of their unacceptable actions and behaviour and accept responsibility for the same. Lastly, it is believed that the victim should be given the opportunity to express his needs and determine the best way to compensate for his actions. The community, in turn, has a responsibility to contribute to this process. Alternative sanctions being introduced in India have been one of the most important milestones for the criminal justice system as it focuses on reclaiming and re-assimilating criminals back into society instead of branding and banishing them. This has majorly helped in de-congesting prisons.
Community Sentencing as a Concept
Community service, also called community correction is a non-incarceration sanction through which offenders will serve all or a part of their sentence serving the community. It is premised on the belief that even criminals deserve protection and are capable of change. It believes that offenders are capable of reform and therefore, deserve rehabilitation so that they can be re-assimilated into society. It takes into account studies on the psychological impact that even one day in prison has on people. Convict Prisoner in The Central Prison v. State of Kerala  established the concept of prisonisation that overcomes a person as a result of the ill effects of a prison environment. He loses his identity, personal relationships, possessions, freedom, status and dignity. This results in psychological problems, often leading to insanity in the case of long-term inmates. Andhra Pradesh was the first state to introduce community service as punishment for offenders serving up to six months in jail for minor offenses. The Bombay Prohibition Act 1949 was amended in 2009 to include the option of community service and as has the Motor Vehicles Amendment Bill 2016. Clause 27 of the bill proposed to amend the IPC provides for the insertion of a new section 74A solely to deal with community service, stating that offenders below 18 years of age shall do community service without any form of remuneration for a prescribed number of hours, not below 40 hours and not exceeding 1000 hours. Further, the service order shall not be final without the consent of the person in writing.
Factors to be Considered
The first criteria to be looked at is the suitability of the offender. Community service is declared by judges according to their discretion, usually to first-time offenders having committed minor crimes that aren’t too serious in nature. However, in State v. Sanjeev Nanda, the SC awarded community service to a criminal who had committed culpable homicide not amounting to murder, thereby deviating from the convention. The nature of the work prescribed should be something that not only helps the society but also rehabilitates the offender by helping him acquire new skill sets. The service usually capitalizes on his strengths and skills. It is recommended for India to adopt proper sentencing guidelines for community service sentencing ay taking into consideration previously tried and tested methods in other countries. The public should also be given the ability to examine whether these activities correspond to set standards so that arbitrary decisions and discretions of power can be avoided. It is preferable that the work awarded to the offender has a direct connection to the nature of the offense committed by him so that he’ll get a glimpse of the consequences to his act of violence. Say, for example, if someone is guilty of grievous hurt, he can be appointed to serve in a medical ward where he will be in charge of helping a lot of ailing patience. Lastly, the duration prescribed should be commensurate to the gravity of the offence. The reduction of sentences by about 10% of the tenure can also act as an incentive for better performance. Eventually, over the course of time, pre-defined methods of determining sentences can be established so that decisions aren’t left to the discretion of the bench. The Ultimate goal is to make sure that the offender grows as a person and learns from his mistakes. This method of sentencing doesn’t interfere with his rights or place unreasonable restrictions on him. He will more or less be allowed to lead a normal life as long as he conforms to necessary safeguards.
The entire concept of alternative sentencing is based on the belief that offenders aren’t beyond the state of repair. It believes that they still have their humanity and will feel guilt towards their past actions and want to compensate for them. Studies have also found that imprisonment invariably leads to increased rates of recidivism, thereby makings ociety less safe. If the offender feels extreme hatred towards society for imprisoning him and stripping him of his identity and pride, he is likely to retaliate. This is why community sentencing is recommended for minor and non-heinous crimes as well as for first-time offenders and juveniles. Adopting this method also removes the social stigma centered around ex-inmates and ex-convicts and subsequently, avoids problems related to incarceration. Since a majority of offenders come from underprivileged backgrounds, they don’t have the necessary skill set to get employed in professional employment. So, community service along with technical training incentives will help them hone their skills and get employed after their sentence. At the same time, community sentencing implies that fewer people will be put in jail. This reduces the burden placed on prisons and is far more cost-efficient in terms of cost per offender. It is also beneficial to society as long as it is done right. A few things to consider are the nature of the crime committed, criminal antecedents, the mental and physical state of the offender and their willingness to engage in the program.
One precautionary measure would be for us to keep them under surveillance considering the gravity of the crime they have committed. After all, it wouldn’t be ideal to have a convict who is serving time for say, culpable homicide working at a school or any other high-risk environment. Even having a system where the offender reports to work will help to keep track of their persistence, dedication and willingness to work. If they further mandate a set number of hours of counseling, vocational training, technical skill development, mental health treatment and anger management sessions, it will be crucial for their rehabilitation and re-assimilation into society.
In the current scenario, with the deplorable state of India’s criminal justice system, repeat offenders have gone up from 3% in 2015 to 6.4% in 2016. It can only be assumed that at this rate, this rate is highly likely to see a steep increase. It is to be noted that not all cases can be direct towards alternative sentences like community service but, by enforcing this for first-time offenders and juveniles, we are essentially preventing new hardcore criminals from being formed. This itself comes to us as a great relief. By making them useful and good citizens of the country, we are giving them guidance, a new life and helping the society at the same time. Apart from certain cons, this seems to be a very promising system of sentencing.
 Convict Prisoner In The Central Prison v. State of Kerala, 1993 Cri.L.J 3242. State Tr. P.S. Lodhi Colony New Delhi v. Sanjeev Nanda, (2012) 8 SCC 450. References