State of our prisons today

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Synopsis: The under trial prisoners in the Bhima-Koregaon case had to move the courts for the basic requirements such as to get a sipper cup and a straw because the prisoner is an 80-year-old man with Parkinson’s and the other to take a pair of glasses to replace a broken pair.


The prisons should be places of reform and rehabilitation but they have become a crowded warehouse for the vulnerable marginalised sections.

What is the state of prisons in our country?

  • Firstly, around 70 per cent of the prisoners are under trial and more than 75 per cent come from marginalised sections that hardly have knowledge about the laws. Even if they are aware, they have little option and access to any complaints mechanism.
  • Secondly, financial, infrastructural, and human resource shortages that range from 20 to 40 per cent also add to staff stress and prisoner despair.
  • Thirdly, overcrowding in prisons between 2017 and 2019 shows that overcrowding increased from 116 to 119 per cent. Some of the prisons are more than three times crowded than their official capacity.
  • Lastly, there is a serious shortage of judges which results in gathering of cases in courts, the number of cases rose from 3.5 crore to 4 crore between 2019 and 2020.
    • According to the India Justice report 2019, it takes an average of three years for the case to go across the high court and six years in the subordinate courts.

Did the attempts of prison reforms turn out to be fruitful?

The recent case of “Re Inhuman Conditions in 1382 Prisons, saw the need for systemic change in prisons as violations have become an everyday routine. There are pathways to accountability and to reform:

  • Reform attempts like the constitution of under trial Review Committees directed by the Supreme Court work occasionally. In most prisons, the Board of Visitors meant to function as an oversight mechanism are not even created.
  • The neglect of reforms by the executive and oversight bodies make sure they act as warehouses for the poor and the marginalised.

Discuss the various efforts previously taken by the court for the prisoners?

  • The Bombay High Court observed that workshops should be conducted for the prison staff to sensitise them towards the prisoners.
  • The responsibility of providing basic facilities to the prisoners is with custodial authorities as stated by the law on the provision of basic facilities.
  • The Nelson Mandela Rules 2015 issued by the UN and the Model Prison Manual 2016 by the Bureau of Police Research and Development, Ministry of Home Affairs, have detailed provisions regarding the care, treatment and rehabilitation of prisoners.
  • The Supreme Court has asked state governments to take steps to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in prisons through a PIL filed in March 2020, which lead to more than 68,000 prisoners being released.

So many Supreme Court and high court judgments have repeated that prisoners are human beings with basic rights. The law stresses that under trial prisoners, except for being prisoned cannot be deprived of any of their other rights.

Further read about Prison reforms

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