Prison Reforms In India
Baljit Dhaka
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Prison Reforms In India

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Prison Reforms In India

Why in news?
Recently, a report by Justice Amitava Roy Committee for Prison Reforms was taken up for hearing before the Supreme court (SC).


  • 'Prisons' is a State subject under the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution.  
    However, the Ministry of Home Affairs provides regular guidance and advice to States and UTs on various issues concerning prisons and prison inmates.
  • Earlier former Chief Justice of India (CJI) in 2013 had pointed out the inadequacy of reformative schemes for offenders and other prominent issues like overcrowding of prisons, unnatural death of prisoners, the inadequacy of prison staff, and present staff not being adequately trained.
  • In response to this, SC had constituted a 3-member committee in 2018, to look into the entire gamut of prison reforms across the country and suggest measures to deal with them.  

Important Reform Measures are taken so far in India:

  • The modern prison system was conceptualized by TB Macaulay in 1835.
  • Prison Act, 1894, was enacted to bring uniformity in the working of the prisoners in India. The Act provided for the classification of prisoners.\
  • All India Jails Manual Committee 1957-59 to prepare a model prison manual.
  • All India Committee on Jail Reforms 1980-83 under Justice A N Mulla, suggested setting up of a National Prison Commission as a continuing body to bring about modernization of prisons in India.
  • In 1987, the GoI appointed the Justice Krishna Iyer Committee to undertake a study on the situation of women prisoners in India.
  • It has recommended the induction of more women in the police force because of their special role in tackling women and child offenders.  

Why is the need for Prison Reforms?

  • The Supreme Court, in its landmark decision in Ramamurthy v. State of Karnataka(1996) had identified various problems that need immediate attention for implementing prison reforms.  
  • Rampant Overcrowding: “Prison Statistics India”, brought out by National Crime Records Bureau stated that in 2015, there were nearly 4.2 lakh inmates in 1,401 facilities against the sanctioned strength of 3.83 lakh, with an average occupancy rate of 114% in most.
  • Due to overcrowding, the segregation of serious criminals and minor offenders has turned out to be difficult, which can, in turn, cause bad influence over minor offenders.
  • Overcrowding results in restlessness, tension, inefficiency, and a general breakdown in the normal administration.
  • Delay in Trials: In 2016, 67% of the people in Indian jails were undertrials which is extremely high by international standards like it is 11% in the UK, 20% in the US, and 29% in France.
  • Torture and ill-treatment: The prisoners including the undertrials are forced to do severe labor without any remuneration and treated with utmost torture. There has been a continuous rise in custodial deaths due to torture and ill-treatment. Women prisoners are more vulnerable to abuse.  
  • Severe staff crunch: 33% of the aggregate prerequisite of jail authorities still lie vacant, whereas, the ratio between the prison staff and the prison population in India is approximately 1:7.
  • Inadequate prison infrastructure: Most Indian prisons were built in the colonial era and are in constant need of repair and part of them are uninhabitable for long periods.  
  • This results in a violation of dignity and basic living conditions which go against UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, which suggest "minimum floor space, lighting, heating, and ventilation provision in the prisons.”
  • Neglect of Health, Hygiene, food, etc: The prisoners in India suffer from severe unhygienic conditions, lack of proper medical facilities, and consistent risk of torment and misuse. 
  • The kitchens are congested and unhygienic and the diet has remained unchanged for years now.
  • Issue of women prisoners: Of the more than 433,000 inmates across the country, nearly 18,500 were women. Though not exclusively looking after female prisoners, there are just 9.6 % of women across all levels of the prison administration in comparison to the 33 percent suggested in policy documents.  
  • Lack of Communication facilities: The prisoners are left to live in isolation without any contact with the outside world, their family members, and relatives. They remain uninformed about the lives and wellbeing of their family.  

Reform measures suggested by Various Committees, Law Commissions and the Judiciary:

  • All India Prison Service: The All India Committee on Jail Reforms (1980– 1983), under Justice A N Mulla, recommended developing an All India Prison Service as a professional career service with appropriate job requirements, sound training, and proper promotional avenues.  
  • Adherence of Model Prison Manual 2016 by all the States and UTs.
  • Uniformity of standards: Central Government along with NGOs and prison administration should take adequate steps for effective centralization of prisons and a uniform jail manual should be drafted throughout the country.  
  • Training & correctional activities:
  • Training to staff in using the latest technology, correctional measures, and physical fitness
  • Involvement of NGOs and other non-profit organizations for educating the prisoners with improved library facilities.
  • Vocational training courses in cloth making, electrification, plumbing, carpentry, etc for the inmates.
  • Facilities for recreational activities such as games and competitions for inmates and staff.
  • Seminars by jail authorities to enlighten the prisoners on their legal rights, health and sanitation problems, HIV/AIDS, and issues of mental health, juveniles, minorities, and steps to reduce the violence in prisons.
  • Infrastructure:
  • Technological upgradations such as biometric identification facilities, prisoner information system, provision of CCTVs, video conferencing facilities, etc. are needed.
  • Up-gradation of hospital infrastructure such as beds, equipment, testing facilities, vehicle during a medical emergency, etc. are needed.  
  • Staff: All vacant staff positions need to be reassessed. Recruitment of additional staff including medical, guarding, correctional staff, clerical, etc.
    Strengthening the open prison system, which has come as a very modern and effective alternative to the system of closed imprisonment.  
  • Strengthening PLVs: In 2009, National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) brought out a scheme called the ParaLegal Volunteers Scheme which aimed at imparting legal training to volunteers to act as intermediaries between the common people and the Legal Services Institutions to remove impediments in access to justice ensure legal aid reaching all sections of people.
  • Report on ‘Women in Prisons’ by Ministry of Women and Child Development in 2018 recommended: 
  • a more robust grievance redressal system and access to female counselors or psychologists
  • separate accommodation for mothers in the postnatal stage to maintain hygiene and protect the infant from contagion
  • Law Commission recommendations like:
  • Amending the bail provisions in the Criminal Procedure Code with an emphasis on the early release on bail of undertrials. 
  • Under trials who have completed one-third of the maximum sentence for offenses up to seven years be released on bail.
  • Those who are awaiting trial for offenses punishable with imprisonment of more than seven years should be bailed out if they have completed one-half of their sentences. 
  • Comprehensive anti-torture legislation on lines of Draft anti-torture legislation (suggested by 273rd report)
  • Draft National Policy on Prison Reforms and Correctional Administration, 2007 recommended:
  • Introduction of a provision for aftercare and rehabilitation services.
  • Community-based alternatives to imprisonment for offenders convicted for relatively minor offenses  

Indeed, prisons in India make for a massive social organization. Part and parcel of the larger criminal justice system, they make an invaluable contribution to upholding up the rule of law and, thereby, to the maintenance of law and order, peace, and tranquillity in society.  

Related Information:
Prison Manual (2016):
It aims at bringing in basic uniformity in laws, rules, and regulations governing the administration of prisons and the management of prisoners all over the country. Key revisions in the manual include-
1. Access to free legal service
2. Additional provisions for women prisoners  
3. Rights of prisoners sentenced to death

4. Modernization and prison computerization
5. Focus on aftercare services
6. Provisions for children of women prisoners
7. Organisational uniformity and increased focus on prison correctional staff
8. Inspection of Prisons, etc.  

Case Study:
Reforming prisons in Telangana

  • It aimed to take the system from security-based to a more human-centric one.
  • There was a recasting of prison life and redefining the treatment of citizens in conflict with the law.
  • A sufficient number of ambulances are made available 24×7 to tackle emergencies.
  • The prison staff is made accountable for every death – individually and collectively.
  • Unhygienic toilets have been transformed into clean private places by paying prisoners to clean them.
  • Collaboration with behavioral psychologists for collective behavior therapy has helped change prisoner attitudes to life, crime, and each other.
  • With visible results, staff morale is high as is the motivation to learn new management techniques to engage with prisoners more closely and less harshly.  

Swadhar Greh:

  • This is a scheme for the rehabilitation of women victims of difficult circumstances.
  • Among other beneficiaries, the scheme also includes women prisoners released from jail and are without family, social and economic support.