Overcrowding Prisons


    In News

    • Delhi’s prisons are overcrowded with 94% more inmates than the sanctioned capacity.

    More about the news

    • All India scenario:
      • Indian prisons have been housing more inmates than their capacity for decades now.
      • According to a report on prison statistics for 2019 released by National Crime Records Bureau,
        • As of 31 December 2019, there were 4,78,600 inmates lodged in different prisons in India while they had a collective capacity to house only about 4,03,700 inmates. 
        • This means the number of prisoners was 118.5% of the prison capacity, the highest since 2010.
      • Meanwhile, an average district jail runs at an occupancy rate of 136%.
    • Case of Delhi:
      • Delhi has three prison complexes 
        • Tihar, Rohini and Mandoli
        • All of them comprise central jails that are crowded beyond capacity.
        • There has been a steady increase in the prison population over the last few years.
        • Tihar:
          • One of the most prominent penitentiaries in India, the Tihar Prison Complex has over two-and-a-half times the number of inmates of its actual capacity.
            • This prison complex is home to some of the most high-profile criminals.
        • Rohini and Mandoli:
          • The prison complexes in Rohini and Mandoli established in 2004 and 2016, respectively, were supposed to ease the burden of Tihar, but they face the same issue.
      • Issues arising:
        • Monitoring prisoners:
          • With almost double the number of inmates against the sanctioned capacity, officials face myriad challenges in monitoring the inmates.
        • Overcrowding leads to many problems such as:
          • Petty fights between the inmates
          • Unsatisfactory living conditions
          • Lack of treatment Programs 
          • Difficulty in maintaining proper surveillance
          • Difficulty in conducting reformation activities

    Causes & Concerns

    • Flawed bail system & pendency:
      • The inconsistencies in the bail system and the pendency of court cases are some of the key reasons for overcrowding in prisons. 
      • Undertrials not having anyone to stand as guarantors nor assets to furnish as bail bonds lead them to continue suffering in prisons.
    • Undertrials on rise:
      • Human rights watchdog Amnesty International noted that 
        • India’s number of undertrials is “far higher than in other democracies around the world,” 
        • As of 2017, India had the third highest number of undertrial inmates in Asia.
      • The criminal justice delivery system in India saw more than 0.2 million undertrial prisoners being neglected in jail for many years.
    • Judiciary:
      • Grossly inadequate number of High Court judges and prosecutors.
      • The situation is grim in subordinate courts where along with the shortage, lack of basic infrastructure is a big concern.
    • Lack of coordination:
      • Lack of coordination between the Centre, Judiciary & State Governments
    • Disruptions due to pandemic:
      • Disruptions due to the coronavirus pandemic further clogged the Indian judicial system. 
        • There was a drop in new cases as courts went digital, but with lockdown restrictions in place, a slower disposal rate resulted in more pending cases.


    • Justice delivery:
      • Liberalize bails:
        • Experts argue that courts must step in to lay down criteria to further liberalize bail, particularly in cases where trials are prolonged, and where the accused have been in prison for years.
      • Speedy appointment of judges:
        • By not appointing judges, the government is depriving common persons of justice. Justice delayed is justice denied
        • There is an urgent need to improve the judge-to-population ratio to reduce the workload of judges. 
      • E-platforms:
        • Improve judicial infrastructure through the use of e-platforms and setting up of more courts.
        • India has launched the e-Courts National portal “ecourts.gov.in” of the eCourts Project.
    • Recommendations:
      • Recommendations of Law Commission of India in its 268th report: 
        • The Commission recommended that those detained for offences that come with a punishment of up to seven years of imprisonment should be released on completing one-third of that period and for those charged with offences that attract a longer jail term after they complete half of that period.
        • It also recommended that the police should avoid needless arrests, while magistrates should refrain from mechanical remand orders
      • Justice Amitava Roy Committee Recommendations: 
        • In 2018 The Supreme Court constituted a three-member committee, to be headed by former apex court judge Amitava Roy, to look into the aspect of jail reforms across the country and make recommendations on several aspects, including overcrowding in prisons. It recommended:
          • Special fast-track courts should be set up to deal exclusively with petty offences which have been pending for more than five years. 
          • Further, accused persons who are charged with petty offences and that granted bail, but who are unable to arrange surety should be released on a Personal Recognizance (PR) Bond.
          • Launching a National Mission for Justice Delivery and Legal Reforms.
    • Open prisons Concept: 
      • The All-India Committee on Jail Reform constituted in 1980 recommended the government to set up and develop open prisons in each state and UT similar to the Sanganer open camp in  Rajasthan.
      • It also recommended that life convicts who offer a good prognosis should be transferred to semi-open & open prisons.

    What is Open Prison?

    • Open prisons have relatively less stringent rules as compared to controlled jails.
    • They go by many names like minimum-security prison, open-air camps or prison without bars.
    • The fundamental rule of an open prison is that the jail has minimum security and functions on the self-discipline of the inmates.
    • The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, popularly known as the Nelson Mandela Rules:
      • It laid down the objectives of open prisons stating that such prisons provide no physical security against escape but rely on the self-discipline of the inmates, providing the conditions most favourable to the rehabilitation of carefully selected prisoners.

    Source: IE