7 PM |India’s prison system needs urgent reform|29th January 2020

Context:Prison Reforms.

More in News: Recently, the ministry of home affairs released the Prison Statistics India (PSI) 2018 report.

Prison Statistics India:

  • Prison Statistics India is the latest in the series of annual statistical reports being brought out by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB).
  • NCRB was established in 1986 with a mandate to empower Indian Police with information technology solutions and criminal intelligence.
  • In fact, this is the only annual statistical publication started by NCRB, other publications having been started prior to the constitution of NCRB and continued by NCRB.
  • The data for the report is collected from Prison Headquarters of all States / UTs. Arunachal Pradesh did not have any jail prior to 2009.
  • The first edition of the report pertains to the year 1995 and the latest edition of the report pertains to the  year 2018.

Scope of the report: The report contains information on

  • prisons;
  • prisoners; and
  • prison infrastructure

Prison in India:

  • Prison is a facility in which individuals are forcibly confined and denied a variety of freedoms under the authority of the State as a form of punishment. 
  • Prison is a State subject under List-II of the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution of India.
  • The management and administration of Prisons falls exclusively in the domain of the State Governments, and is governed by the Prisons Act, 1894 and the Prison Manuals of the respective State Governments. 

Key Findings of the report:

  • Number if jails:
  • The total number of prisons at national level has decreased from 1,412 in 2016 to 1,339 in 2018, having decreased by 5.17% during 2016-2018.
  • The highest number of jails were reported in Tamil Nadu (138) followed by Rajasthan (130), Madhya Pradesh (130), Andhra Pradesh (105), Karnataka (104) and Odisha (91). These Six (6) States together cover 52.13 % of total jails in the country as on 31st December, 2018.
  • Delhi has reported the highest number of Central jails (14) in the country. However, States/UTs like Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, A & N Island, D & N Haveli, Daman & Diu and Lakshadweep have no central Jail as on 31st December, 2018.
  • Only 15 States/UTs were having Woman Jails (24 Woman Jails) with a total capacity of 5,593 in India.
  • Capacity of prisons:
  • The actual capacity of prisons has increased from 3,80,876 in 2016 to 3,96,223 in 2018 (at a rate of 4.03 % during 2016-18). However, number of prisoners lodged in various jails has increased from 4,33,003 in 2016 to 4,66,084 in 2018 (at a rate of 7.64 %).
  • Out of the 4,66,084 prisoners, 4,46,842 were male prisoners and 19,242 were female prisoners.
  • The occupancy rate has increased from 113.7% in 2016 to 117.6% in 2018.
  • Profile of prisoners:
  • During the whole year 2018, a total of 18,47,258 inmates were admitted in various jails of the country.
  • A total of (4,66,084) prisoners were confined in various jails across the country. The number of Convicts, Undertrial inmates and Detenues were reported as 1,39,488, 3,23,537 and 2,384 respectively accounting for 29.9%, 69.4% and 0.5% respectively.
  • In 2018, the proportion of undertrial prisoners in India was almost 70% of the total number of those imprisoned, their number during the last decade increased by 25.4%. 
  • The share of undertrails confined for more than three years has increased by 140% since 2000.
  • Deaths and illness in prisons:
  • Number of deaths in prisons has increased marginally from 1,655 in 2016 to 1,845 in 2018, having increased by 11.48% during 2018.
  • Number of deaths due to natural causes has increased from 1,424 in 2016 to 1,639 in 2018, having increased by 15.10% during 2018.
  • Number of un-natural deaths in prisons has decreased by 35.50% from 231 in 2016 to 149 in 2018.
  • Prison Budget and Infrastructure:
  • The total budget for the financial year 2018-19 for all prisons in the country was ` 6,068.7 Crore. The actual expenditure was ` 5,283.7 Crore which is 87.06% of total annual budget for FY 2018-19.
  • Almost 50.2% (` 891.232 Crore) of total expenses on inmates were spent on Food followed by 4.3% (` 76.487 Crore) on Medical matters, 1.4% (` 24.664 Crore) on welfare activities, 1.4 %(` 24.692 Crore) on Clothing and 0.5% (` 8.139 Crore) on Vocational/ Educational trainings.
  • Prison Staff:
  • The sanctioned strength of jail-staff was 85,840 while the actual strength was 60,024.
  • Among the jail-staffs, the sanctioned strength of Officers, Jail-cadre Staff and Correctional Staff were 6,944, 64,545 and 1,065 respectively while the actual strengths were 4,630, 46,248 and 616 respectively.
  • The inmate-to-staff ratio is 7:1.
  • The inmate-to-correctional staff ratio stands at 756:1, and the correctional staff which include welfare, law and probation officers is completely absent in 14 states and union territories.
  • The inmate to medical staff ratio remains at 243:1.


  • Overcrowding and violation of Human Rights: The prison population is increasing which in turn deteriorate the prison conditions. This goes against the Nelson Mandela Rules, 2015. Nelson Mandela Rules calls upon governments to ensure that “the prison regime should seek to minimize any differences between prison life and life at liberty that tend to lessen the responsibility of the prisoners or the respect due to their dignity as human beings.”
Text Box: Nelson Mandela Rules:
•In the resolution A/RES/70/175, the General Assembly decided to extend the scope of Nelson Mandela International Day, observed each year on 18 July, to be also utilized in order to promote humane conditions of imprisonment; to raise awareness about prisoners being a continuous part of society; to value the work of prison staff as a social service of particular importance.
•Thus, General Assembly resolution adopts the revised United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners and approves that they should be known as the "Nelson Mandela Rules" in honour of the legacy of the late President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela.
•Fundamental principles on Nelson Mandela Rules are:
ØPrisoners must be treated with respect for their human rights and dignity
ØNo torture or inhumane practice towards prisoners
ØSet an objective to prevent recurrence of crime
ØEveryone in the prison should be safe at all times
ØThere should be no discrimination and administrators should take into account needs of individual prisoners especially the vulnerable ones
  • Undertrials:In 2018, the proportion of undertrial prisoners in India was almost 70% of the total number of those imprisoned.
  • Lack of legal aid: Legal aid lawyers are poorly paid, and often over-burdened with cases. Further, there is no monitoring mechanism to evaluate the quality of legal aid representation in most states.
  • Unsatisfactory living conditions: 
  • Prison structures in India are in dilapidated condition. Further, lack of space, poor ventilation, poor sanitation and hygiene make living conditions deplorable in Indian prisons.
  • The living conditions in prisons for vulnerable groups are even worse.  In 2018, there were 19,242 women prisoners, 5,168 foreign national prisoners (excluding those confined in detention centres) and 6,623 suffering from mental illness. The information on other vulnerable groups like transgender prisoners and person with disability is missing too.
  • Health:The inmate to medical staff ratio remains at 243:1. This shortfall, with the lack of effective health care, might also be a major reason behind the high number of custodial deaths in 2018.
  • Custodial deaths: Number of deaths in prisons has increased  by 11.48% during 2018. Data on prison deaths over the last few years indicate that deaths in prisons are increasing at a higher rate than the increase in the population of prison.

Way Forward: There is a dire need to address the issue of overcrowding in Indian jails. Further, sincere efforts should be made to improve living conditions which include better sanitation and hygiene, adequate food and clothing. The 2018 statistics must spur the criminal justice system to assess, evaluate and take affirmative steps to check this. 


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