Prison Reforms

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    • Recently, the Union Home Minister asked all states to modernize their prisons and said that a new law on jail reforms is coming soon.

    More about the news

    • Colonial jail system:
      • The minister also mentioned that India’s incarceration system is prone to abuse because it was set up by the British to subjugate political prisoners.
    • Need for modernization:
      • According to him, there is a need to make jails modern and technologically adept with stringent security measures.
      • It is also required to introduce better living and health facilities, libraries, and training programmes for prisoners to help them get back to society and initiatives to promote mental development. 
    • Model Prison Manual:
      • For this reason, the government in 2016 introduced the ‘Model Prison Manual’ to replace the existing prison manual
        • In the manual, the government has considered aspects such as human rights, the rehabilitation of prisoners in society, the rights of female prisoners, laws for prison inspection and the right to education even for death row convicts.
    • State’s position:
      • ‘Prisons’ is a State subject under State List of the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution of India
        • So, the management and administration of Prisons fall exclusively in the domain of the State Governments.
      • Only 11 states and Centre-administered Union territories have adopted the new ‘Model Prison Manual’
        • He also urged the other states to accept the new manual without delay for prison reforms.
    • ‘Model Act for the prison system’ on the way:
      • He said the government is also in talks with states to introduce a model Act for the prison system. 
    • Issue of overcapacity:
      • According to the National Crime Records Bureau’s 2021 statistics, there were 5,54,034 people in prisons across India, as against a capacity of 4,25,609. 
      • A similar trend of overcapacity was seen in 2020 and 2019 as well.

    Other Issues faced by prisoners 

    • Overcrowding.
    • Prolonged detention of under-trial prisoners
      • A poor man remains in jail for over a year without trial for minor offences such as theft.
    • Many inmates can’t even afford the bail amount. 
    • Unsatisfactory living conditions.
    • Lack of treatment Programs.
    • The allegations of the indifferent and even inhuman approaches of prison staff have repeatedly attracted the attention of critics over the years. 

    Right to Life and Personal Liberty For Prisoners 

    • Article 21:
      • The Supreme Court in various cases has declared the right to medical care comes under the ambit of Article 21 of the Constitution
      • Article 21 of the Constitution also guarantees the right of personal liberty and thereby prohibits any inhuman, cruel or degrading treatments to any person whether he is a national or foreigner. 
    • Article 39A:
      • Article 39A of the Constitution of India deals with the obligation of the State to provide free Legal Aid to such accused prisoners both in the prison and outside, as they are unable to engage a lawyer due to a lack of means to defend themselves in the Court for the criminal charges brought against them.

    Recommendations on Jail reforms

    • 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: 
      • 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.

    Way Forward

    • There are many hurdles to cross for the prisons to be a reformative institution than a custodial home of torture
    • The progress is mainly hindered by factors such as resource allocation, deterrent functions of punishment and rehabilitation approach.
    • Though there have been suggestions and recommendations by various committees, the major concern in India stands to be that of actual enforcement.

    In conclusion it must not be overlooked that the issue of prison administration and reformation of prisoners is just a piece of the bigger picture of social recovery.