[Answered] Progress is antithetical to setting up prisons, and we must address congestion in prisons in non-carceral ways. Discuss.

Introduction: Contextual introduction.

Body: Explain present conditions of prison. Also explain why need to address this.

Conclusion: Write a way forward.

Prison is a State subject under List-II of the Seventh Schedule in the Constitution. The management and administration of Prisons falls exclusively in the domain of the State Governments, and is governed by the Prisons Act, 1894 and the Prison Manuals of the respective State Governments.

Present conditions of prison:

  • Prisons Act, 1894, a colonial legislation which treats prisoners as sub-par citizens, and provides the legal basis for punishment to be retributive, rather than rehabilitative.
  • These laws are also highly casteist, and remain largely unchanged since they were drafted by the British. For example, some jail manuals continue to focus on purity as prescribed by the caste system, and assign work in prison based on the prisoner’s caste identity.
  • Furthermore, Dalits and Adivasis are over-represented in Indian prisons. Legislations such as the Habitual Offenders Act and Beggary Laws allow the police to target them for reported crimes.
  • According to the National Crime Records Bureau’s reportsthe capacity of prisons has increased from some 3.32 lakh to 4.25 lakh in the last decade, which is a 27% increase while the number of prisoners has increased from 3.7 lakh to 5.54 lakh in the same period, by 48%.

Need to address this:

  • Prisons were considered a place for rehabilitation for prisoners but it has become a place of despair, hopelessness and helplessness for prisoners.
  • Prisons are overcrowded with the high number of undertrial prisoners (70 percent) than convicts.
  • Deathworthy report on mental health and the death penalty reveals that over 60% of death row prisoners had mental illness and they have not been provided treatment.
  • Overcrowded jails are a violation of the human rights of prisoners guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution.
  • Apart from risking the lives of inmates, ignorance of the poor conditions of prisons has also added to the misery of the families of those in jail.

There is a need for reform, rehabilitation or reintegration. These will make prisoners confident in their lives, in their choices and in their ability to take decisions and be responsible and accountable for them. The rehabilitation process should be empathetic and caring instead of violence.

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