Prison Reforms & undertrials

  • SC : Jails are overcrowded by 150%
  • According to official data, two of every three persons incarcerated in India have not yet been convicted of any crime
  • Men make up more than 90% of all prison inmates. Nearly 2,000 children of women inmates live behind bars, 80% of those women being undertrials
  • The Nelson Mandela Rules 2015 issued by the United Nations (UN) and the Model Prison Manual 2016 by the Bureau of Police Research and Development, Ministry of Home Affairs, have elaborate provisions regarding the care, treatment and rehabilitation of prisoners.
  • Prisoners have to approach courts to get even a basic need examples Stan Swamy, an 80-year-old prisoner with Parkinson’s, has to move the courts to get a sipper cup and a straw
  • Lack of medical care: Even a high-profile person lack medical care. E.g. Rajan Pillai death in Tihar jail.
Law Commission’s view:
  • The rich and powerful get bail with ease while the commoner and the poor languish in jail
  • Prolonged periods in prison where undertrials and convicts were not segregated would only make hardened criminals of the former
  • A majority of the undertrials (70.6 per cent) are illiterate or semiliterate and belong to socio-economically marginalised groups. Sixty-seven per cent of the prison population is awaiting trial
  • The Commission quoted an expert study which said that a majority of the arrests are for “very minor prosecutions.” Over 60 per cent of arrests were unnecessary and such arrests accounted for 42.3 per cent of jail expenditure
  • Pressure on prisons: According to the Prison Statistics of India, the prison occupancy stands at 114 per cent. The prisons have 53,009 officials to take care of 4,19,623 inmates which amounts to one official per eight inmates
  • Recommendations
    • Amendments to bail provisions: The Commission recommended to the government amendments to the bail provisions in the Criminal Procedure Code with emphasis on the early release on bail of undertrials
    • Undertrials who have completed one-third of the maximum sentence for offences up to seven years be released on bail
    • Those who are awaiting trial for offences punishable with imprisonment of more than seven years, should be bailed out if they have completed one-half of their sentence
    • New legal provisions for remission: The Commission said new legal provisions for remission should be included to cover those undertrials who have already endured the full length of the maximum sentence
In your opinion, what constitutes prison reforms? Critically examine what efforts have been made to reform prisons in India. (200 Words)
Prisons of India are still widely managed under prisons Act of 1894.This colonial legacy continues to plague the Indian prisons even after six decade of Independence.
A look at the prison problems will help in understanding what constitutes prison reforms in India.
Prison problems:
  1. Overcrowding: This creates various types of problem. This is also exacerbated by high pendency ratio of various cases. More than 3 crore cases are still waiting for final adjudications, many of them are of criminal types. Issues of under trials remains one of the biggest challenge.
  2. Corruption, discrimination and inequality: Not all prisoners are treated in same way. Politicians get better treatment, whereas general public have to undergo inhuman conditions.
  3. Sanitation, unhygienic food and health problems: No serious effort is taken about basic human rights once a person falls behind the bars. There is lack of sanitation and many times food offered is not worthy of even offering to the animals. There are cases of sexual violence, especially in isolated environment people tend to forget all boundaries. Homosexuality leads to possible HIV/STD cases. For women prisoners custodial sexual exploitation by fellow prisoners and male security guard is also prevalent. There is a clear lack of respect for human dignity here. In 1994, an IPS officer Kiran Bedi tried to offer condoms to prisoners to control STD cases, but it was taken back due to huge protest seen thereafter.
Keeping in mind these challenges, Government of India has taken many steps to carry out prison reforms. In Pre-independence era many prison committees were set up for this purpose. Even after independence committees like Mulla committee and Krishna Menon committees of 80’s offered great insights into prison reforms. The approach so far has been piecemeal and no serious overhauling has been done. The investigation by NHRC suggests the above findings.12th FYP has offered a sizeable chunk of money for prisons infrastructure and for improving prison management, but results are yet to be seen.
Critically comment on the condition of women prisoners in Indian prisons. (200 Words)
The condition of women prisoners in Indian prisons is a matter of great concern. They face a lot of issues which need to be addressed by the govt immediately. Some of the issues faced by the women prisoners and corresponding solutions are as follows:
  1. Prisons are already overcrowded. Soln: Building enough prison infrastructure for the cell inmates must be a priority for the govt:.
  2. Exploitation of women prisoners physically and mentally which even result in deteriorating mental conditions of women prisoners. Soln: Posting enough women police officers in women cells will be a good step to stop this menace. Interrogations should be recorded and made be available to the courts for inspection.
  3. No adequate health care facilities in prisons. Soln: It must be taken care that a woman doctor is available at every women prisons and should be ensured that the services must be available 24 hrs.
  4. More than half of the prisoners are not convicted prisoners. And many of them are in prisons for petty cases. Soln: Steps must be taken to ensure that the cases are resolved at a faster rate. Setting up more fast track courts and evening courts would be good step in this direction.
  5. Lack of opportunities and skill development. Once women prisoners are out of jail, they find it very difficult to make a living, as most of them are uneducated and devoid of any skills. Soln: Jails should take steps to provide opportunities and make initiatives to develop prisoners skills, like the example of Trivandrum jail authorities, where they started a large scale Idli producing unit which helped the jail inmates to make money for their personal use.
  6. Devoid of opportunities for children of women prisoners. Soln: Children of women prisoners, who end up in jails , should be provided with ample opportunities for their education and development in all aspects.
  7. Social Stigma: The family members are unwilling to aid or support the female prisoners ,leading to most of the women stay in the prisons despite of their term being over.
  8. Most of the female prisoners are ignorant of their rights to get bail and languish in jails even for petty crimes.
  9. Lack of sanitation: It’s also observed that, sanitation and hygiene is in pathetic condition in the prison. Number of bathrooms are very less adequate as compares to the number of prisoner, In particular cases, it’s just 2 for 150 prisoners.
These are the findings of a study conducted by National Commission for Women which reveal worst performances by Chhattisgarh police with over 3000 complaints of human rights violation against them.
The Government of India must take cognisance of the issue and provide basic necessities in jail like health facilities, education, and humane conditions of work, rehabilitation for the victimised and constitutional safeguard against physical abuse by government authorities followed by a speedy trial process. Empowering of National Commission for women and National Human Rights Commission beyond their advisory jurisdiction and granting them more autonomy to deal with such cases. The role of media and civil society is to act as pressure group.
It is found that a little over two-thirds of the total number of jailed people in the country’s jails are undertrials. Critically examine who are these undertrials? Why do they languish in jails? How their rights are infringed upon? And suggest what government and concerned authorities should do to address this issue. (200 Words)
As per NCRB data, under trials prisoners account for nearly 67% of total population in Indian jails. They are those prisoners who are suspect or accused and not convicted (presumed innocent) but are imprisoned as it is assumed they are either too dangerous or can impact the probe.
Reason for the Languishing:-
  1. Sec 436A of the CrPC provides that an under trial who has served half of the maximum punishment for which he is charged then he should be released on bail. However this is not implemented properly.
  2. Lack of awareness about the rights and Lack of the legal aid.
  3. Even if someone know the Rights than also in no position to pay the bond value.
Undertrials are denied right to equality (Article-14).For same crime committed one who can afford bail and has resources gets bail on the other hand one who lacks it serves as undertrials.
Right to life and liberty (article-21 right to fair and speedy trial) of undertrials is violated.
Higher percentage of Muslims, SCs and STs to their overall population is incarcerated as under-trials.
Section 62(5) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 governing the “right to vote”, stipulates that no person shall vote in any election if they are confined in a prison or is under lawful custody of police. (but those on bail can vote)
The suggestions in this regard are strict implementation of CrPC 436 -A freeing those undertrials who have served half of maximum sentence on bail even without bond, setting up of special courts in prison taking up the cases of undertrials on fast track basis, involving NALSA for those who cannot afford a lawyer or furnish bail amount,
Reforming criminal justice system itself such as removing the dilatory procedures, amending the rules to finish the case in a time bound manner ,increasing judicial infrastructure among others.
“As undertrials continue to languish in Indian jails, only humaneness in prison reform can alleviate their condition of unfreedom—and set free their creative genius.” Critically comment. (200 Words)
According to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) statistics, in 2013, there were 4.11 lakh inmates in Indian Jails. Out of these 2.78 lakhs were undertrials. Thus, around 70% of inmates in Indian jails are undertrials, many of whom might not even be guilty of crimes they are accused of.
Prison reform has been a much neglected issue in India. While there have been many committees including the Justice Mulla Committee (1980), RK Kapoor Committee (1986) and Justice Iyer Committee (1987) their recommendations have continued to gather dust.
Even without the problem of overcrowding and the specific problem of undertrials, jails in India are horrifying places that serve to harden the criminal tendencies instead of attempting to reform a prisoner.
The following steps need to be taken to ensure that our prisons achieve the objective of reforming a prisoner.
  1. A survey of the undertrials population. In cases where the accused has spent more time in jail than the maximum punishment for his crime, the accused should be immediately released.
  2. In cases, where the undertrials has spent more than half the maximum jail time, they must be released on a personal bond in accordance with section 486 of the Criminal Procedure Code.
  3. Separation of criminals and undertrials in jail.
  4. Classification of crimes into normal, violent, heinous etc. Then criminals of different categories could be segregated based on the seriousness of their crime.
  5. Basic facilities in jail to ensure skill development of a criminal, such that he/she can earn a basic living once his term of punishment is over.
  6. Having a proper policy for parole and furloughs and disseminating information about the same to prisoners so that everyone can exercise this right.
  7. Having a proper policy of rehabilitation of criminals in society as productive members. Initiatives like a restaurant staffed by Tihar Jail inmates could be duplicated elsewhere in the country.
All these do not need any expenditure but requires only a humanistic approach by the jail authorities. What Kiran Bedi did in Tihar jail, stands as an example to emulate. It is high time that we reform our prisons to be correctional and reform homes which can reform hardened criminals into productive members of the society, instead of doing the reverse.

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