Conditions of Prisons in India

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    In Context 

    President Draupadi Murmu’s call to the government and the judiciary to address the issue of overcrowding of prisons is a significant and very welcome intervention. 

    Data Analysis 

    • According to Prison Statistics India 2021, a report published by the Ministry of Home Affairs, between 2016-2021, the number of convicts in jails decreased by 9.5 percent whereas the number of undertrial inmates increased by 45.8 percent.
      • With three out of four prisoners being undertrials, the problem of overcrowding of prisons is essentially an undertrial issue. 
    • As of December 31, 2021, around 80 percent of prisoners were confined for periods of up to a year.
      • The report states that an overwhelming 95 percent of undertrials released in 2021 were granted bail by courts while a mere 1.6 percent were released on acquittal by the court. 
      • It shows that the sluggish pace at which trial courts work to reach a final decision cannot keep up with the increasing number of undertrials.

    Major problems of prison systems in India

    • Over Crowding: Congestion in jails, particularly among undertrials has been a source of concern.
    • Corruption: Corruption by prison staff, and its less aggressive corollary, guard corruption, is common in prisons. 
    • Unhealthy Living Conditions: The overcrowding in prisons leads to unsatisfactory living conditions.
    • Staff Shortage and Inadequate Training
    • Unequal treatments: Special privileges are accorded to the minority of the prisoners who came from the upper and middle classes of their irrespective of the crimes they have committed or the way they comport themselves in prison.
    • Inadequate prison Program:  Hardly any of the prisons have well-planned prison programs providing daily structured activities, vocational training, pre-discharge guidance, and post-prison monitoring.
    • Poor Budget for Health and Care in Prison
    • Insufficient Legal Aid:  The lack of good and efficient lawyers in the legal aid panels is a concern.
    • Abuse of Prisoners: Physical abuse of prisoners by the guards is another chronic problem in the prisons of India. 
    • Custodial Tortures /Deaths: The torture brutal physical treatment in custody by police officials is another major problem of jails in India

    Efforts for Reforms 

    • The Department of Justice is constantly endeavoring to extend requisite assistance to the High Courts and State Governments in setting up Fast Track Special Courts (FTSCs for prompt trial and disposal of cases to ensure a safe and worthwhile living environment, especially to women and children in totality.
    • Model jail manual: The Union Home Minister released a model jail manual in 2016. 
      • It makes clear that the state is under an obligation to protect the residuary rights of prisoners after they surrender their liberty to a legal process.
    • Law Commission of India: There were a series of recommendations made by the Law Commission of India in its 268th report in 2017 .
      • 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: It recommended that 
      • 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.
      • This is among the several recommendations — besides modern cooking facilities, canteens to buy essential items and trial through video-conferencing — made by a Supreme Court-appointed committee to reform prisons.

    Suggestions 

    • The basic dignity of an arrested person or convicted person must be given proper respect. 
      • Protections of such dignities are mentioned in the universal declaration of human rights as well as under article 21 of the Indian constitution.
    •  It is the need of the hour that provisions of the security of prisoners mentioned in jail manuals must be followed strictly and also well-equipped and trained prison staff should be appointed to look for safety measures. 
    • Regular and timely inspections from judicial officers must be conducted. 
    • All the organs of police and administration must combine together so that effective social rehabilitation of inmates can be secured.
    • 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 programs for prisoners to help them get back into society and initiatives to promote mental development. 
    •  if prison overcrowding is to be brought down then the under-trial population has to be reduced drastically and this cannot happen without the courts and the police working together. 
      • The three wings of the criminal justice system would have to act harmonically.

    Mains Practice Question 

    [Q] Discuss the major problems of prison systems in India and the suggestions to handle them.