Prison Reforms

Facts:
  • In India there are around 1,400 prisons, ‘housing’ over 5 lakh prisoners. 
  • According to the National Crime Records Bureau’s report for 2019 out of 4.5 lakh prisoners, 3.3 lakh are ‘under-trial prisoners’, i.e., investigation or trial is supposed to be ‘in progress’.
  • Out of 3.3 lakh, about 2.2 lakh are either not likely to be even charge-sheeted, or they are likely to be acquitted.
Laws / SC rulings in protection of Prisoners rights
  • Article 14 (3)(c) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, states that an accused has the right to be tried without undue delay.
  • In Hussainara Khatoon v. Home Secretary, State of Bihar, 1979 the court has stated that the state is bound to provide legal assistance to prisoners, ensure their safe and timely release and safeguard their rights to a fair and speedy trial.
  • Charles Sobraj v. The Suptd., Central Jail, Tihar, 1978:
    • Opined that “imprisonment does not spell farewell to fundamental rights”.
    • Overcrowded jails are a violation of the human rights of prisoners guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution.
  • Recent Supreme court direction
    • Taking cognisance of this issue, the Supreme Court directed the States to examine releasing inmates, convicted or facing trial on non-serious charges, from jails either on regular bail or on parole.
    • It also directed them to provide transport facility to the prisoners to reach home.
How a lack of effective criminal laws is affecting under-trial prisoners in India?
  • According to the Prisons Act of 1894, prisons come under the exclusive responsibility of State governments.
  • UTPs are detained under Section 167 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) which provides for “Procedure when investigation cannot be completed in 24 hours”.
  • The original Cr.PC of 1898 specified the period of detention as 15 days. Later, through amendments, it was extended to periods that can go up to 90 days and, in some exceptions, to an indefinite period.
  • This is a huge violation of the basic human rights of UTPs, who are already facing the issue of inadequate healthcare facilities and torture by other rowdy prisoners.
  • Moreover, it is a huge injustice to the families of the UTPsFor example, their children are denied a normal childhood, proper education, and are exploited by a cruel section of the society and are forced to take to the path of crime.
What needs to be done?
  • To de-congest prisons, the Code of Criminal Procedure (Amendment) Act, 2005, which contains the much-needed Section 436-A needs to be activated.
  • It provides for an under-trial to be released on a personal bond, with or without sureties if the under-trial has spent half of the period of prescribed imprisonment in detention.
Prisons and Prison Laws in India:
  • 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.
  • Thus, States have the primary role, responsibility and power to change the current prison laws, rules and regulations.
  • Important statutes which have a bearing on the regulation and management of prisons in the country are:
    1. The Indian Penal Code, 1860.
    2. The Prisons Act, 1894.
    3. The Prisoners Act, 1900.
    4. The Identification of Prisoners Act, 1920.
    5. Constitution of India, 1950
    6. The Transfer of Prisoners Act, 1950.
    7. The Representation of People Act, 1951.
    8. The Prisoners (Attendance in Courts) Act, 1955.
    9. The Probation of Offenders Act, 1958.
    10. The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.
    11. The Mental Health Act, 1987.
    12. The Juvenile Justice (Care & Protection) Act, 2000.
    13. The Repatriation of Prisoners Act, 2003.
    14. Model Prison Manual (2016).
Problems in India Prisons:
Overcrowding, prolonged detention of undertrials, unsatisfactory living conditions, staff shortage and poor training, corruption and extortion, inadequate social reintegration programmes, poor spending on healthcare and welfare, lack of legal aid and even inhuman approach of prison staff among others.
Examples:
  • Blinding of prisoners in Bhagalpur.
  • The murder of a woman life convict in the Byculla women’s prison in Mumbai in June 2017 has brought the focus back on custodial violence, especially the vulnerability of inmates to authoritarian behaviour.
Mulla Committee: (All India Committee on Jail Reforms 1980-83):
  • In 1980 the Government of India set-up a Committee on Jail Reforms under the Chairmanship of Justice A. N. Mulla.
  • The Mulla Committee submitted its report in 1983.
  • The basic objective of the Committee was to review the laws, rules and regulations keeping in view the overall objective of protecting society and rehabilitating offenders.
  • It recommended a total ban on the heinous practice of clubbing together juvenile offenders with hardened criminals in prisons.
  • Some of the prominent recommendations of the Mulla committee are:
    • Improving prison condition by making available proper food, clothing, sanitation;
    • The prison staff to be properly trained and organized into different cadres.
    • Setting up an All India Service called the Indian Prisons & Correctional Service.
    • After-care, rehabilitation and probation to be an integral part of prison service.
    • The press and public to be allowed inside prisons and allied correctional institutions periodically, so that the public may have first-hand information about the conditions of prisons and be willing to co-operate in rehabilitation work.
    • Undertrials in jails to be reduced to bare minimum and they be kept away from convicts.
    • Undertrials constitute a sizable portion of prison population. Their number to be reduced by speedy trial and liberalization of bail provisions.
    • The Government may make an effort to provide adequate financial resources.
Krishna Iyer Committee:
  • It was constituted in 1987 for women prisoners.
  • It has recommended induction of more women in the police force in view of their special role in tackling women and child offenders
Analysis:
  • It is important to note that although various bodies have studied the problems of prisons in India and laws are made for improving jail conditions, it is a fact that many problems plague our prisons.
  • In many cases, prisoners come out of jails as hardened criminals more than as reformed wrong doers willing to join the mainstream social processes.
  • The emphasis on correctional aspect needs to be strengthened through counselling programmes by experts.
  • The mindset of the prison staff must change.
  • The management of prisons must be marked by discipline and due regard to the human rights of prisoners.
  • Prison reform is not just about prison buildings, but what goes on inside them that needs to be changed.
  • The focus must be on the human rights of prisoners besides improving their amenities.
SC has now formed Amitava Roy Committee on Prison reforms.
Major Reforms recommended by Home Ministry:
  • All the state governments should link prisons with courts through video conferencing in order to expedite trials and to save costs of escorting undertrials to courts.
  • The states have been asked to integrate prison e-system with Crime and Criminal Tracking Network and Systems (CCTNS) as well as e-courts on a priority basis.
  • At periodic intervals, combined training of prison, police, health department and judiciary on undertrial management should be conducted.
  • Separate training module on deradicalisation of prisoners should also be conducted.
  • The states should fill the existing vacancies in all ranks of prison departments expeditiously.
  • The nomenclature of Prisons Department may be changed to “Prisons and Correctional Administration“.
  • As per the changed nomenclature, it should have integrated prison, correctional and probation services.
  • All states should establish a welfare wing comprising welfare officers, law officers, counsellors and probation officers, under their respective prison departments.
  • To ensure uniformity in prison rules and regulations, all states/UTs should revise their existing prison manuals by adopting provisions of the model prison manual, 2016 prepared by the home ministry.
NALSA Web application:
It will have
  • Data for each individual prison inmate in the jails
  • Data of total number of inmates, the number of inmates unrepresented, the number of inmates represented by legal services lawyers and the number of inmates represented by private lawyers. All these information can be generated State wise, District wise and also with respect to each jail.
  • The web application will help in making the legal services system more transparent.