“A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.” -by Nelson Mandela
This statement signifies towards the dilapidated conditions of prisons and Prisoners’ in India. As the data released by Prisons Statistics of India (PSI) 2020, revealed the status of Prisons and Prisoners in India presenting a disappointing picture of the jails. The Administration, Government and People as a whole are responsible for this situation. The issues like Lack of prison officers, misuse of power by officials, inhuman conditions and misuse of funds allocated were the major ones. This needs to be addressed and to find the way out it is necessary to keep the statistics and data adequately.
- In 17 states, on an average, prison populations rose by 23% from 2019 to 2021, as opposed to 2-4% in previous years.
- The appalling figures come from states such as Uttar Pradesh, Sikkim, and Uttarakhand, which had tragic occupancy rates of 177%, 174%, and 169%, respectively (December 2020).
- Only Kerala (110% to 83%), Punjab (103% to 78%), Haryana (106% to 95%) Karnataka (101% to 98%), Arunachal Pradesh (106% to 76%) and Mizoram (106% to 65%) could reduce their occupancy of prisons below 100%.
What are Provisions related to Prisons?
- Fundamental rights form the core of human rights in India. They are the basic rights of the citizens which cannot be taken away under any circumstances.
- The law of the country also guarantees some of these rights to the prisoners too like Article 14, 19, 21.
- However, it cannot impose the fundamental rights in its full panoply to the advantage of the prisoners.
- Giving prisoners Right to Fair procedure forms the soul of Article 21.
- Levying reasonableness in any restriction is the essence of Article 19(5)and sweeping discretion degenerating into arbitrary discrimination is anathema for Article 14.
Rights available to the Prisoners’:
- Right to health and medical treatment
- Right to live with human dignity
- Right to Life and personal liberty
- Right against solitary confinement and bar fetters
- Right to Privacy of prisoners and their spouses
What are the issues related to Prisons in India?
- Over Crowding.
- Unhealthy Living Conditions.
- Staff Shortage and Inadequate Training.
- Unequal treatments at prison.
- Inadequate prison Program.
- Poor Budget for Health and Care in Prison.
- Insufficient Legal Aid.
Impacts on various Stakeholders’:
- On Prisoners: The issues inside the Prison and inhuman treatment make them hostile towards society and daily life.
- On Family: Families of the Prisoners’ has to suffer equally as they have to inside the Prison. Due to far away jails and available only in districts and blocks, the family members in rural areas remain unable to meet their family members inside Jails. This makes a cut-off situation for Prisoner’ for the time he/she is inside Jail
- On Society: Society at large is getting wrong instances of Prison system and if they got into some mischief, they try to remain out of the situation to be in Prisons.
What is Supreme Court’s Stand on the issues related to Prison system?
- In the case of the State of Andhra Pradesh v. Challa Ramkrishna Reddy, the court held that a prisoner is entitled to all the fundamental rights unless curtailed by the constitution.
- In State of Maharashtra v. Prabhakar Pandurang Sanzgir, the Supreme Court stated that the mere fact that someone is detained cannot deprive one of his fundamental rights and that such conditions are not to be extended to the extent of the deprivation of fundamental rights of the detained individual.
- The Court further ruled that every prisoner retains all such rights that are enjoyed by free citizens except the one that is lost necessarily as an incident of confinement.
- In Charles Sobaraj v. Supdt Central Jail Tihar, it was ruled that all the rights available to prisoners under Articles such as 14, 19 and 21 are though limited but cannot be said to be static. They are bound to or rather will rise to new human heights when challenging circumstances arise.
Recommendation for Prison Reforms:
The Supreme Court appointed Justice Amitava Roy (retd.) Committee which gave the following recommendations to address the overcrowding of prisons:
- Speedy trialremains one of the best ways to remedy the unwarranted phenomenon of overcrowding.
- There should be at least one lawyer for every 30 prisoners, which is not the case at present.
- Special fast-track courtsshould be set up to deal exclusively with petty offences which have been pending for more than five years.
- An adjournment should not be granted in cases where witnesses are present.
What are the measures required to solve the problem?
- Addressing Structural Deficiencies:As much as the Supreme Court’s directions and the efforts of the prison administration are appreciated, it is also important to address the structural deficiencies in prison otherwise the prisons will continue to remain the places where the innocent spend an unwarranted amount of time and face unfair and unacceptable health and safety risks.
- Making Prisons Correctional Institutions:The ideal policy prescription of making prisons into places of rehabilitation and “correctional institutions” will only be achieved when the issues of unrealistically low budgetary allocation, high workloads and the un-mindfulness of the police regarding procedural safeguards are addressed.
- The concept of plea bargaining,in which the accused admits guilt for a lesser sentence, should be promoted.
Hence the Prison system and Prisoners’ Rights both are interlinked to each other and needs a collaborative approach of Legislative and Executive.
Though there are several issues, but can be solved using Technological interventions, civil society interference and Governments’ Policies.