PRISON REFORMS IN INDIA | 21st November, 2020

The Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D) had invited research proposals from academics and legal experts in 2018. Among those two topics were shortlisted for further research by the Ministry of Home Affairs recently. The topics were

  • “Status of radicalisation in India: an exploratory study of prevention and remedies”
  • “Functioning and impact of open prisons on the rehabilitation of prisoners”
Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D)

Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D), the police think tank formed in 1970, under the Ministry of Home Affairs to give a new orientation to the then existing Police Research and Advisory Council formed in 1966.

Bureau was established with two divisions initially

  1. Research, Statistics and Publication
  2. Development.

In 2008, the Government further decided to create the National Police Mission (NPM) under the administrative control of BPR&D


Criminal Justice reforms include reforms in Judiciary and the justice system, Police reforms and prison reforms. Though all 3 reforms are equally important to society at large, prison reforms get the low level of attention in most of the countries including India. This is why it is said Prison is a recruitment centre for the army of crime.

Present condition of Prison in India:

NCRB 2019 data says there are 1350 functional jails in India, with a total capacity of approx. 4 Lakh prisoners but actual strength exceeds 4.78lakh. In that 4.3% are women and 69.05% (approx. 3.3 lakh) were under trials and only 30.11% are convicted for crime. Occupation rate in all prison is on an average 118.5%. In general, under trials spend three months to five years in jail before getting bail.

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
    1. g.: India lost the case of bringing KIM DEVY from Denmark who is accused of PURILA ARMS DROP CASE.
  • 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.
  • NHRC figures show that prisoners cut off from family and friends had a 50% more chance of committing suicide than those outside.
  • While 33% of the total requirement of prison officials still lies vacant. Police personnel in India is 181/lakh population which is much less than the UN prescribed 222/lakh.
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.

Committee under the chairmanship of Director General, Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D) 2005:

  • used the reports of Justice Mulla Committee Report & Justice Krishna Iyer Committee and made several additional and new recommendations. It also drafted a National Policy on Prison Reforms and Correctional Administration, 2007.
Draft National Policy on Prison Reforms and Correctional Administration

  • Amending the constitution to include principles of prison management and treatment of undertrials under DPSP, and including prisons in the concurrent list.
  • Enactment of uniform and comprehensive law on matters related to prisons.
  • A department of Prisons and Correctional Services to be opened in each state and UT.

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.
Open or Semi open prisons

Semi-open prisons or open prisons allow convicts to work outside the jail premises and earn a livelihood and return in the evening.


  • Reduce overcrowding and operational costs in prison administration.
  • Reduce the psychological pressure and lack of confidence when they assimilate into society.
  • Develops a humane attitude about the offenders in society.
  • Utilizing the first-of-its-kind advanced DNA FORENSIC LAB in CHANDIGARH and pass The DNA Technology (Use and Application) Regulation Bill, 2018 to reduce the overcrowding by the faster conviction of offenders.
  • Extending Legal Right to Vote prisoners and free legal aid (Directive Principle entrusted in Article 39a of our Constitution).

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.

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