State of Prisons in India – Explained, pointwise

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The death of Father Stan Swamy has again highlighted the dismal state of prisons in our country. The prisoners are not only deprived of their liberty but are also denied basic health and hygiene facilities. They are also subjected to an additional layer of torture by the jail authorities, which is nothing but a state crime.

Punishments like imprisonment have never functioned without a certain additional element of punishment that certainly concerns the body itself. This includes rationing of food, sexual deprivation, corporal punishment, solitary confinement. Therefore, a trace of ‘torture’ exists in the modern mechanisms of criminal justice.

The State of Prison in India

NCRB 2019 data says that there are 1350 functional jails in India, with a total capacity of approx. 4 Lakh prisoners but actual strength exceeds 4.78 lakh. In that 4.3% are women and 69.05% (approx. 3.3 lakh) were under trial and only 30.11% are convicted for the crime.

Need for prison reforms
  • Indian prisons face three long-standing structural constraints: overcrowding, understaffing and underfunding. The inevitable outcome is subhuman living conditions, poor hygiene, and violent clashes etc.
    • In 1995, Rajesh Pillai who was detained for extradition to Singapore for an economic offence died in Tihar jail. 
    • The Leila Seth commission to inquire about his death deduced that the failure to give him appropriate and timely medical attention led to his death. 
  • Extradition of fugitives under the UN Convention directly depends on prison reforms
    • For example, India lost the case of bringing KIM DEVY from Denmark who is accused of PURILA ARMS DROP CASE.
  • Under trials lose four of their fundamental rights: the right to liberty, freedom of movement, freedom of occupation, and freedom of dignity. And the legal right to vote as well.
  • The National Crime Records Bureau data reports the death of over 1,800 prisoners in the year 2018.
    • A large percentage of those dying in prison is not convicted of any offence
    • This is a clear violation of Article 21 which states that no person shall be denied life or liberty except by the due process of law.
  • While 33% of the total requirement of prison officials still lies vacant. Police personnel in India is 181/lakh population which is much less than the UN prescribed 222/lakh.
  • The apathy of Jail authorities was again witnessed in Father Stan Swamy’s case.
    • His deteriorating health was neglected, and he was shifted to a hospital after a considerable delay. Which eventually enhanced the probability of his death.
Reason Behind such Dismal Conditions
  • The jail authorities feel a sense of freedom for doing inhuman acts, as obsolete laws still protect them.
    • For instance, The State of Maharashtra has deemed it fit to continue to be governed by the Prisons Act of 1894. The prison offences mentioned under this Act are only those committed by the inmates. 
    • No conduct of the prison authority is criminalised. It grants them immunity and presumes their good faith in acts of extreme neglect that could result in the death of inmates.
  • There is no separation between hard hand criminals and petty under trails.
  • Above all, Prison is a State subject in India.
Judgements over the condition of prisons
  • Sunil Batra (I) v. Delhi Administration (1978): The court held that the humane thread of jail jurisprudence runs through Indian prisons, under which no prison authority enjoys amnesty for unconstitutionality.
  • The Delhi High Court in Nina Pillai & Ors v. Union of India directed the payment of Rs 10 lakh as compensation to the petitioners and the implementation of the Leila Seth Commission’s recommendations.
Committees on Prison reforms
Justice Mulla Committee, 1983:
  • All India cadre for prison staff and Bringing prison under the concurrent list
  • Government should form a National Policy on Prisons
  • Government to use alternatives to imprisonment such as community service, etc.
Justice V. R. Krishna Iyer committee on women prisoners, 1987:
  • Separate institutions with women employees alone for women offenders.
  • Necessary provisions to restore the dignity of women even if convicted.
Justice Amitava Roy panel on prison reforms:

In 2018, the Supreme Court-appointed this panel. The committee submitted its report on February 2020 with major recommendations includes

  • For overcrowding
    • Special fast-track courts should be set up to deal with petty offences.
    • Lawyers – prisoners ratio: there should be at least one lawyer for every 30 prisoners.
  • For Understaffing
    • The Supreme Court should pass directions to start the recruitment process against vacancies
    • There should be the use of video-conferencing for trial.
  • For Prisoners
    • Every new prisoner should be allowed a free phone call a day to his family members to see him through his first week in jail.
    • Alternative punishments should be explored.
Read more: Prison reforms in India
Suggestions to improve the state of prisons
  • Government should frame a National Policy on prison and form a National Commission on Prison to look into matters more seriously.
  • Ratifying the UN Convention against torture and sensitizing the staff about the need to treat prisoners as humanely as possible.
  • Ensure the holistic development of prisoners like stress management, Yoga, etc.
  • It is the responsibility of the State and the judiciary to ensure that prisoners are only deprived of their liberty. They shouldn’t be exposed to any additional torture in the form of medical deprivation, unhygienic conditions, bad or inadequate food etc.
  • The collective interest of the society can only be served by ordering a judicial inquiry into the conditions of detention and infection of Swamy. The state should fix accountability upon those who failed to ensure his safety and dignity in incarceration. 
  • The collective interest of the community also demands an introspection by the judicial institution on whether it is really in the public interest to make jail the rule and bail the exception.
    • Father Swamy was prosecuted under UAPA in which jail is the rule and bail is the exception.

Source: Indian express 


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