Sending First Time Offenders To Jail For Minor Offences Pushes Them Towards Crime

Sending First Time Offenders To Jail For Minor Offences Pushes Them Towards Crime

Probation of Offender Act Punjab and Haryana High Court defends the Act and says that sending first time offenders to jail pushes them towards crime
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Highlighting the need for probation and reformative justice, Punjab and Haryana High Court at Chandigarh has said that Courts have “ample power” to release the first time offender of minor offences on probation, keeping into focus the nature and manner of the crime, age of the offender, other antecedents and so also the attending circumstances of the offence, instead of committing him to jail.

Permitting a plea on probation, the Judges at the Punjab and Haryana High Court, while observing that the accused persons involuntarily caused hurt, said that the accused were neither hardened criminals nor habitual offenders. These key observations were made while hearing a revision plea against Sessions Court’s order whereby the appeal filed by the five accused persons against the judgment of conviction had been partly allowed and the accused were ordered to be released on probation on furnishing personal bonds of peace and good behaviour.

Chandigarh High Court has explicitly ruled that the beneficial provisions of the Probation of Offenders Act have to be liberally construed to serve the underlying purpose of reformation, societal benefit and to keep the first time and minor offenders away from the detrimental environment of jails. It must be noted that the Single Judge Bench comprising of Hon’ble Ms Justice Manisha Batra was hearing a petition that had been filed by a complainant in a case after the accused were ordered to be released on probation. The Bench observed that the legislature’s sole intention in passing probation laws was to give a person of “a particular type” a chance at reformation, which would be unavailable if he was sent to prison. “This court is of the considered opinion that taking into consideration the agony and trauma, which the accused persons have undergone during protracted trial, appeal, revision, their antecedents, nature of offence, totality of other facts and circumstances emanating from the record, no useful purpose would be served by sending them again to jail to serve out the remaining period of sentence", said the judgement.

As it turned out, the Bench enunciates in para 3 that, “The prosecution examined as many as six witnesses apart from placing on record some documentary evidence. Thereafter, the statements of the accused under Section 313 of Cr.P.C. were recorded and all the incriminating evidence was put before the accused, which they denied and stated that they would lead defence evidence. However, no defence evidence was led by them.”

As we see, the Bench then lays bare in para 4 that, “The trial Court, after appraising the entire material placed on record as well as after hearing the arguments addressed by the parties, held the accused/respondent Nos. 2 to 6 guilty for commission of offences punishable under Sections 341, 323, 325 of IPC read with Section 34 of IPC and sentenced them to undergo rigorous imprisonment for a maximum period of one year. Aggrieved from the same, the accused persons had preferred an appeal before the appellate Court, which was partly allowed by passing the impugned order and the accused/respondent Nos. 2 to 6 were ordered to be released on probation as mentioned above. Aggrieved of the impugned judgment of the appellate Court, the petitioner, who was the complainant of the FIR, has come up before this Court by filing the present revision challenging the judgment of the appellate Court.”

Some of the Judgements by Supreme Court on Probation Act

The aims and object of the Probation Act came to be decided by Hon’ble Apex Court in case Jugal Kishore Prasad v. State of Bihar, 1972 AIR (SC) 2522. Hon’ble Supreme Court while considering the scope of the Probation Act had held as under:-

“The Probation of Offenders Act was enacted in 1958 with a view to provide for the release of offenders of certain categories on probation or after due admonition and for matters connected therewith. The object of the Act is to prevent the conversion of youthful offenders into obdurate criminals as a result of their association with hardened criminals of mature age in case the youthful offenders are sentenced to undergo imprisonment in jail. The above object is in consequence with the present trend in the field of penology, according to which effort should be made to bring about correction and reformation of the individual offenders and not to resort to retributive justice. Modern criminal jurisprudence recognizes that no one is a born criminal and that a good many crimes are the product of socio-economic milieu. Although not much can be done for hardened criminals, considerable stress has been laid on bringing about reform of young offenders not guilty of very serious offences and of preventing their association with hardened criminals.”

While citing a plethora of relevant case laws, the Bench propounds in para 10 that, “Reliance can also be placed upon Isher Das v. State of Punjab, AIR 1972 Supreme Court 1295 and Arvind Mohan Sinha v. Amulya Kumar Biswas and others, 1974 AIR (SC) 1818, wherein Hon’ble Supreme Court had taken the similar view. Relevant paragraph of Arvind Mohan Sinha’s case (supra) reads as under:-

“The Probation of Offenders Act is a reformative measure and its object is to reclaim amateur offenders who, if spared the indignity of incarceration, can be usefully rehabilitated in society. A jail term should normally be enough to wipe out the stain of guilt but the sentence which the society passes on convicts is relentless. The ignominy commonly associated with a jail term and the social stigma which is attached to convicts often render the remedy worse than the disease and the purpose of punishment stands in the danger of being frustrated. In recalcitrant cases punishment has to be deterrent so that others similarly minded may warn themselves of the hazards of taking to a career of crime. But the novice who strays into the path of crime ought, in the interest of society, be treated as being socially sick. Crimes are not always rooted in criminal tendencies and their origin may lie in psychological factors induced by hunger, want and poverty. The Probation of Offenders Act recognises the importance of environmental influence in the commission of crimes and prescribes a remedy whereby the offender can be reformed and rehabilitated in society. An attitude of social defiance and recklessness which comes to a convict who, after a jail term, is apt to think that he has no more to lose or fear may breed a litter of crime. The object of the Probation of Offenders Act is to nip that attitude in the bud. Winifred A Sikin describes probation as a system which provides a means of re-education without the necessity of breaking up the offender’s normal life and removing him from the natural surroundings of his home. (English Juvenile Courts (1938) page 162) Edwin R. Sutherland raises it to a status of a convicted offender. (Principles of Criminology, 4th Edn. (1947) page 383).”

The Bench of the Punjab & Haryana High Court also postulates in Para 12 that, “The object underlying the provisions of Sections 4 and 6 of the Probation of Offenders Act, 1958 (for brevity “the Probation Act”) and Sections 360 & 361 of Cr.PC, is that the first offenders be not sent to jail for the commission of less serious offences, on account of grave risk to their attitude to life to which they are likely to be exposed as a result of their association with the hardened and habitual criminal inmates of the jail. Their stay in jail in such circumstances might well attract them towards a life of crime instead of reforming them. This would clearly cause more harm than to reform them, and for that reason, it would perhaps also be to an extent prejudicial to the larger interests of the society as a whole. Perhaps that was the reason that the mandatory injunction against imposition of sentence of imprisonment has been embodied in Section 6 of the Probation Act. This mandate is inspired by the desire to keep the young delinquent/first offenders away from the possibility of association or close contact with hardened criminals and their evil influence. Therefore, these beneficial provisions have to be liberally construed.

Sanjeev Sirohi, Advocate,
Meerut - 250001, Uttar Pradesh.

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