CHENNAI: The State’s prison department has been sitting on a Rs 9-crore fund for compensating victims of crime due to lack of awareness that such a fund exists and that victims can claim it.
The fund, generated by the wages that prisoners earn from making products for the prison industry, was meant to be distributed to victims of crimes based on criteria like socio-economic status of the victims.
“There is over Rs 9 crore in the fund,” explained a top-level official in the Prison Department on the condition of anonymity. “Money is only disbursed through applications and the problem is there aren’t many applications coming in. When we receive applications, the jail superintendent, Collectors and probation officers go through them and send them to prisons department for final sanction of the compensation amount.”
However, the lack of awareness about the scheme among stakeholders of all levels is making the funds lie unused. “I did not know that such a fund existed for victims,” said Swetha Shankar, Manager, Psycho-social Interventions at The International Foundation for Crime Prevention and Victim Care. “We are in the process of understanding different types of compensation schemes available for victims, burn survivors in particular, but we haven’t come across this scheme”
It isn’t just NGOs but activists too who were unaware. “This scheme is not known even amongst human rights activists,” said Professor A Marx, chairperson of the National Confederation of Human Rights Organisations. “For the scheme to become successful, people need to know such a scheme exists. Also, it should not be the prisoner alone who compensates the victim. Crime is a reflection of society and society should pay the victim as prisoners receive meagre wages.”
R Nataraj, Mylapore MLA and former Director-General of Police, feels the problems within the system are the biggest hurdles. “Tamil Nadu was among the first States to introduce this scheme,” he said. “The real challenge with this fund is often the lack of awareness and initiative among the Prison Department and those involved in disbursing the money.”
Logistically too, there are challenges as there is no consolidated list of victims that is used by probation officers to identify victims. When a convict is being sent out on parole or bail, officers are sent to ensure the victim is safe. It is at this time that victims are approached for this compensation. Many victims move to other places which makes it tough to track them down, said the Prison Department official.
“Convincing victims that the money is from the government and not from the prisoner is a big challenge,” said the official.
A unique feature of this fund is that it is independent of the courts. “Since this scheme does not involve the courts, it could be a faster way to get the compensation,” said Shankar.