The pandemic has put the spotlight on inhumane conditions in Indian prisons. Many prisoners are tested positive for COVID19. Their deteriorating health without any proper health care seen as a grave violation of human rights.

Present condition of Prison in India

  • Indian jails over-occupied

  • A total of 1,341 prisons were functional in India as on 30thNovember, 2018. The total population of prisoners in India was 4.68 lakh against total sanctioned strength of 3.83 lakh.
  • From 2016 to 2018, the total prison population in India has increased by 8.2% against an increase of 0.7% in the prison sanctioned capacity.
  • Seven states, namely Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, Meghalaya and Delhi have an occupancy rate of 150%

Huge number of undertrial

  • Most of the prisons are full of undertrial prisoners, their numbers being highly disproportionate to those of convicts (declared guilty)
  • An undertrial is a person who is being held in custody awaiting trial for a crime.

Shortage of Prison Staff

  • The Prison Department has a perennial average vacancy of 30%-40%. This hinders implementation of Model Prison Manual and various jail reforms.
  • Physical production of an accused for a trial in a court remains far below the aspired 100% in several States, mainly because of unavailability of sufficient police guards for escort and transportation.
  • Unhygienic Food

    • The preparation of food in kitchens is “primitive and arduous”. The kitchens are congested and unhygienic and the diet has remained unchanged for years now.


Need for prison reforms:

  •  Indian prisons face three long-standing structural  constraints: overcrowding, understaffing and underfunding. The inevitable outcome is subhuman living conditions, poor hygiene, and violent clashes etc.
  •  Extradition of fugitive under UN Convention directly depends on prison reforms
  •  under trials lose four of their fundamental rights: the right to liberty, freedom of movement, freedom of occupation, and freedom of dignity. And the legal right to vote as well.

Challenges in prison reforms:

  • Prison is a State subject.
  • Prison Act 1894, which governs prisons with modifications is more than a century old and focus more on keeping them alive (headcount) not reform and rehabilitation.
  • No separation between hard hand criminals and petty under trails.

Committees on Prison reforms:

Justice Mulla Committee 1983:

  • All India cadre for prison staff and Bringing prison under the concurrent list
  • Government should form a National Policy on Prisons
  • Government to use alternatives to imprisonment such as community service, etc.

Justice V. R. Krishna Iyer committee on women prisoners 1987:

  • Separate institutions with women employees alone for women offenders.
  • Necessary provisions to restore the dignity of women even if convicted.

Justice Amaitava Roy panel on prison reforms:

In 2018, the Supreme Court appointed this panel. The committee submitted its report on February 2020 with major recommendations includes

  • For overcrowding
    • Special fast-track courts should be set up to deal with petty offences.
    • Lawyers – prisoners ratio: there should be at least one lawyer for every 30 prisoners.
  • For Understaffing
    • The Supreme Court should pass directions to start the recruitment process against vacancies
    • There should be use of video-conferencing for trial.
  • For Prisoners
    • 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.
    • Alternative punishments should be explored.


  • Government should frame a National Policy on prison and form a National Commission on prisons to look into matters more seriously.
  • Ensure the holistic development of prisoners like stress management, Yoga, etc.
  • Ratifying the UN Convention against torture and sensitizing the staffs about the need to treat prisoners as humanely as possible.
  • Changing the people’s attitude that “Everyone inside the jail is not a criminal, he is either an offender nor an under trail”.
  • Increasing the budgetary allocation of the Criminal Justice System.
  • Encourage Interactive and community policing in all possible ways.
  • Open prison or semi open prison has to be encouraged like that in UP and Rajasthan.


Way ahead:

Indian jails dubbed as a university for grooming criminals structural changes are needed to address the key issues. Else, prisons will continue to be heaven for politically connected criminals and hell for socio-economically disadvantaged undertrials.


Downoad Yojna IAS Daily Current Affairs of 27th May 2021

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