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A few days ago we heard the story of an elderly woman who was pillion riding on a motor bike with her husband getting killed when a branch of a tree cut down by a prisoner fell on her in front of the prison premises at Baseline Road, Borella. For many, it may just be another accident. But in reality it’s much more.

In this incident a group of prisoners were used by prison authorities to clean the prison premises and some of them had been cutting a tree at the premises of the Prison Commissioner’s official residence when the branch fell on the moving motor bike.
Central question is whether prisoners can be used for any kind of risky or hard jobs. It may be true that those who are serving prison sentences can be given light or heavy work as a part of legally prescribed punishment. However there is a question mark as to whether such work includes inherently risky duties such as climbing trees.

The other question is who will be responsible if an accident occurs threatening the life of a prisoner or if an injury is caused to an outsider as a result of a prisoner being put to some work which he is not trained for, as happened in this particular case. In this modern age, surely there has to be strictly demarcated boundaries regarding such matters.

Though some of their rights are legally restricted as a part of the punishment meted out to them by courts, they should not be regarded as slaves or vassals of the prison authorities. Surely, some safety standards should be adhered to when prisoners are used for such work.

Learning from this recent incident the authorities should seriously look at the possibility of introducing a set of norms on the nature and the extent of the hard labour duties that can be assigned to those serving prison sentences.