Women prisoners and inmates of open jails across Maharashtra can now make video calls to their families and relatives, said a senior official of the prison department of the state government.
This could be the first-of-its-kind initiative for prisoners in the country, claimed the official.
Under the initiative, the prison department has started a smart video calling facility for inmates lodged in women's jails and open prisons, the official said.
A prisoner can talk to his/her family members for five minutes and is charged Rs. 5 for availing the service, he said.
"It was initiated on a pilot basis at the Central Prison at Yerawada in Pune and now it has been started in women's jails and open prisons across the state," he said.
Through the video calling facility, prisoners can speak to their relatives or family members for five minutes on a given day on mobile phone numbers registered with the department, he said.
Smartphones being used for the video facility, which brings inmates and their family members face to face, have been purchased by dipping into the Prisoners Welfare Fund, the official said.
The whole conversation is monitored by a police constable to ensure the video chat centres only around family issues and well-being of each other, he said.
Earlier, the department had installed coin box phones inside jails to enable inmates to speak to their family members. These phones were installed on court orders and prisoners could use them for five minutes, he said.
Around 28,000 prisoners, including convicts and undertrials, are lodged in 54 jails across the state. Among them, 13 are open prisons and two are women's jails, he said.
Besides, the department has set up high-tech rooms in all the prisons with thick glass partitions separating inmates and visitors, the official said.
In these rooms, inmates and their family members can see each other and converse through a mike, he said.
Maharashtra has taken a lead in using video conferencing facility to produce undertrail prisoners in courts for hearings, the official said.
Last year, 1.11 lakh undertrials were produced before various courts through video conferencing, he said, adding, "This year, we are expecting this number to top 1.5 lakh."
In another initiative called 'Galabhet' (embrace your child), children aged below 16 years are allowed to meet their parents lodged in jails, the official said.
"We have also started tele-medicine initiative for prisoners, under which they can get medical advice over the telephone from doctors," he said.
The Maharashtra prison department, headquartered in Pune, oversees nine central jails, 31 district jails, 13 open jails and 172 sub-jails. There are two separate prisons for women at Pune and Mumbai, according to the department's website.
Two open prisons for women are located in Pune and Akola, it said.
Open jails give the prisoners freedom of movement. They are also allowed to work on farms or factories while serving their sentence.