Delhi LG has got it wrong, India doesn’t need new prisons — it needs prison reform

Source– The post is based on the article “Delhi LG has got it wrong, India doesn’t need new prisons — it needs prison reform” published in The Indian Express on 13th January 2023.

Syllabus: GS2- Functioning of judiciary

Relevance– Criminal justice system

News– The article explains the issues related to prison inmates in India

What are the issues faced by prisoners in India?

The criminal justice system is inherently biassed against disadvantaged sections. The prison inmates include 20.9% SC, 11.24% ST, 35.06% OBC, and 20% Muslims. Further, 25% of the prisoner population is illiterate.

Prison Statistics of India 2021 report of the National Crime Records Bureau show that more than 77% of jail inmates are undertrials and every year this number goes up. The undertrial prisoners in Indian jails registered a 15% increase from 3.72 lakh in 2020 to 4.27 lakh in 2021. The same data set also records 25% of the prisoner population is illiterate.

There is a blanket ban on the voting rights of prisoners despite India being the world’s largest democracy. This includes incarcerated prisoners as well as undertrials. The ban lacks any reasonable classification based on the nature of the crime or duration of the sentence.

In other countries such as South Africa, Germany, France, Canada undertrials who are out on bail can enjoy the right to vote.

The number of custodial deaths has registered a 12% increase from 1,887 in 2020 to 2,116 in 2021.

There is a lack of medical staff in prisons. On December 31, 2021, the actual strength of medical staff was 2,080. The sanctioned strength of medical staff is 3,497

Instances of manual scavenging inside prisons have also been reported in the media.

They are still governed by the colonial Prisons Act, 1894, which treats prisoners as sub-par citizens and provides for strict punishment rather than rehabilitation.

What is the stand of SC and legal provisions on prisoners?

and The Supreme Court has outlined three broad principles regarding imprisonment and custody. First, a person in prison does not become a non-person. Second, a person in prison is entitled to all human rights within the limitations of imprisonment. Third, there is no justification for aggravating the suffering already inherent in the process of incarceration.

In Hussain and Anr. v/s Union of India (2017), the apex court had ordered expeditious disposal of bail applications along the principle of bail being the norm and jail being the exception.

Section 436A of the CrPC stipulates that a person having undergone detention for half time of maximum period of imprisonment is entitled to be released on bail with or without sureties.

What is the way forward to improve the conditions of prisons?

The criminal justice system is based on four pillars — deterrence, retribution, prevention, and reformation.

There is a need to liberalise the bail system.


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