A jail in the Purnia District of Bihar, India, is in the process of installing an ATM inside its premises. While this move may seems bizarre or benevolent to some depending on how much you know about prison labour. It is neither of those things, the ATM is being installed, primarily, to stop overcrowding at the gate.
The families of the the prisoners are allowed to pass cash to them through the bars of the gates, but this level of crowded intermingling is dangerous right now and can lead to a potential coronavirus outbreak in the jail.
Inmates in Indian jails get paid to work during their incarceration, it can be voluntary or assigned as part of their punishment by the court. The inmates get paid depending on the level of skills they can provide, meaning whether they are skilled, semi-skilled or unskilled workers–although even the more skilled ones are paid paltry amounts much lower than the market rate. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) an Indian inmate can earn between the Rs. 15 (PKR 32) – Rs. 180 (PKR 390) a day.
India is not the only country in the world where inmates can earn money while incarcerated, the U.S also has a somewhat similar system where inmates can work to earn money for commissary expenses or to get reduce their sentences.
The central jail of Purnia is the largest jail in all of Bihar state, it has 1900 inmates of which 56 are women. The inmates of this jail have produced goods and services in the past as well, for instance when the coronavirus pandemic hit the inmates made face masks which were supplied to other jails.
Jitendra Kumar, the superintendent of Purnia central jail said in a statement, “We have written a letter to the SBI [State Bank of India] in this regard and we do hope the ATM will be installed inside the jail in a fortnight. Out of 750 inmates, 600 have their accounts in various banks and 400 have been issued ATM cards and the rest would get it soon.”
Kumar also said the installation would help streamline the process of paying inmates, “The inmates can use cards to purchase daily use items like soaps, hair oil, eatables against the payment they receive for doing work on the premises.”.