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Observing that it was time for the government to consider whether prisoners could be allowed leave for paying conjugal visits to their spouse, the Madras High Court has recently allowed a 40-year-old convict serving a life sentence to go on a two-week “temporary leave” for the “purpose of procreation”.

The division bench of Justices S Vimala Devi and T Krishna Valli granted the temporary leave to Siddique Ali, an inmate of Palayamkottai Central Jail in Tamil Nadu’s Tirunelveli district, on a Habeas Corpus petition filed by his 32-year-old wife.

In an order that could be seen as a radical step towards prison reforms, the Bench observed: “It is time the government constitutes a committee to consider possibilities of providing conjugal visits and analyse the merits and demerits of permitting conjugal visits.” The Bench added that many countries had given such rights to prisoners.

The judges added: “The right of prisoners for conjugal visits has been recognised in a few countries. If prisons are overcrowded the government should find solution for such problems.”

Explaining the rationale behind allowing conjugal visits to prisoners, irrespective of the sentence that they were serving or the crimes that they had been convicted for, the Bench said: “Conjugal visits help prisoners maintain relationship with families, reduce recidivism and are an incentive to good prisoners.” The Madras High Court order also said: “Reforming the prisoners is part of the correctional mechanism provided in the criminal justice.”

Before granting Ali the two-week temporary leave, the court rejected a plea filed by the prison officials which claimed that the prisoner’s life was in danger and there was no provision in the prison manual for giving leave on such grounds.

However, the judges told the prison officials that “Providing for release of prisoner for the purpose of procreation of child with the available law can be done. It can be interpreted as a request covered under extraordinary reason.”

The judges also told the prison officials to provide Ali an escort in civil dress once he is released from jail to visit his wife.

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