The Government’s recent offer of an amnesty for prisoners is a step in the right direction. Also welcome was the President’s Prisoners’ Welfare Day address, in which he spoke of the drug barons who operate in prisons.
Prison alone does not reform offenders. Under the Youthful Offenders Training School Act of 1939, young offenders under 22 years were given a three-year training. This initiative was strongly commended by the Justice Gratiaen Commission on Prisons in 1949, and the school was expanded in 1953.
The Negombo Prison was also turned into a training school, around 1954. In 1967, a prisoners’ training school was opened in Taldeniya. There were more than 500 inmates in 1955, but now, it is understood, the law is under-used and even the Watupitiwela institution is closed.
The Probation of Offenders Act of 1943 was another positive development, with the prisons coming under a Commissioner of Prisons and Probation Service. Welfare Officers were introduced in 1956; they looked after the interests of prisoners released from jail. The recruitment of Welfare Officers ceased in 1985.
The Open Prison Camp set up at Pallekelle in 1958 was another progressive development. After the squashed insurgency of 1971, the department was burdened with extra prisoners at rehabilitation camps, but all the insurgents were released in 1977. The appointment of High Court Judges in 1973 expedited the disposal of cases.
If more institutions were available from the beginning, classification and treatment would have been easier.
R. J. N. Jordan