Promoting fair and effective criminal system



  • The focus of public and judicial concern over the situation prevailing in the India’s prisons has gained momentum in recent times after the recent brutal murder of a women life convict in the Byculla women’s prison in Mumbai on June 23. The murder has brought the focus back on custodial violence, especially the vulnerability of inmates to authoritarian behavior.
  • In the last half century, the superior courts have passed a series of orders to reform jails. The issue range from prisoners’ rights, health, hygiene and access to legal aid, to the condition of women inmates and their children.
  • The judiciary’s approach has been anchored in the belief that fundamental rights “do not part company with the prisoner at the gates”. The state is under an obligation to protect the residuary rights of prisoners after they surrender their liberty to a legal process.
  • Prison conditions should not be an additional punishment. The prison sentence is the sanction; it holds an individual accountable for their actions and protects society. It deprives someone of their liberty and impacts on certain other rights, for instance freedom of movement, which are the inevitable consequences of imprisonment, but people in prison, retain their human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Problems faced by prisoners:

  • Prisons often do not meet even the most basic of standards.
  • Prison staff considers harsh treatment to be legitimate way to deal with inmates.
  • Prisoners who experience humane detention conditions will be more willing and able to respond to rehabilitative programmes.
  • Those who experience punitive conditions and mistreatment on the other hand are likely to return to society psychologically shattered and in worse state of physical and mental condition.
  • Rates of infectious disease like HIV/AIDS and TB, are much higher in prisons than in the rest of the population in most countries.
  • UNAIDS estimates that prisoners are five times more likely to be living with HIV Notification rates for TB in European prisons ranges between 11 and 81 times higher than in the general population (WHO).

Rights available to prisoners:

  • International human rights law is binding all the states and their agencies to provide basic human rights to all the inmates.
  • No person shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
  • Any person who alleges that he or she has been subjected to torture has the right to complain and to have the case impartially examined by the competent authorities.
  • All prisoners shall be provided promptly with written information about the regulations which apply to them and on their rights and obligations.
  • The families, legal representatives and, if appropriate, diplomatic missions of prisoners are to receive full information about the fact of their detention and where they are held.
  • All prisoners shall be offered a proper medical examination and treatment as soon as possible after admission. Prisoners suffering from other mental diseases shall be treated in specialized institutions under medical management
  • Right to an Adequate Standard of Living
  • Use of force, including use of firearms, to prevent escape should only be applied when less extreme means are insufficient to prevent the escape.
  • All disciplinary offences and punishments must be specified by law or published legal regulations.
  • The main aim of the prison authorities in their treatment of prisoners should be to encourage personal reformation and social rehabilitation
  • Prisoners’ Contact with the Outside World No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his or her privacy, family, home or correspondence.

Special categories of prisoners:Women in prison

  • They are entitled to the equal protection of all human rights in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil, and all other fields.
  • Women prisoners shall be supervised by female officers.
  • Pregnant women and nursing mothers shall be provided with special facilities.

Juveniles in detention

  • Children are to benefit from all the human rights available to adults.
  • Children shall not be subjected to corporal punishment, capital punishment or life imprisonment without possibility of release.
  • Special efforts shall be made to allow detained children to receive visits from and correspond with family members
  • The privacy of a detained child shall be respected, and complete and secure records are to be maintained and kept confidential.
  • Juveniles of compulsory school age have the right to education and to vocational training

Reasons for bad situations:

  • Prison overcrowding is one of the key contributing factors to poor prison conditions around the world.
  • The overuse of solitary confinement in prisons around the world is becoming an increasing concern. Some form of short-term isolation from the rest of the prisoners is used almost everywhere as punishment for breaches of prison discipline. In United States, for example, it is estimated that 80,000 individuals are being held in some form of isolation.

Government initiatives related to prisoners:

  • The Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India had constituted a working Group on Prisons in 1972 which for the first time emphasized the need to have a national policy on Prisons
  • The Constitution of India, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Standard Minimum Rules for Treatment of Prisoners clearly specify the standards of treatment with the prisoners in jails.
  • Article 21 of the constitution of India provides life with dignity which is also applicable to prisoners.
  • The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) remains the core international treaty on the protection of the rights of prisoners.
  • India ratified the Covenant in 1979 and is bound to incorporate its provisions into domestic law and state practice
  • The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESR) states that prisoners have a right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.
  • PRISONS ACT 1894, is the basis on which the present jail management and administration is operated in India.
  • THE GOVERNMENT OF INDIA ACT 1935 allowed the subject of jails from the centre list to the control of provincial governments and hence further reduced the possibility of uniform implementation of a prison policy at the national level.
  • The Committee prepared the Model Prison Manual (MPM) and presented it to the Government of India in 1960 for implementation.
  • THE MULLA COMMITTEE In 1980 :The Government of India set-up a Committee on Jail Reform, under the chairmanship of Justice A. N. Mulla.
  • THE KRISHNA IYER COMMITTEE: In 1987, the Government of India appointed the Justice Krishna Iyer Committee to undertake a study on the situation of women prisoners in India.
  • 1999, a draft Model Prisons Management Bill (The Prison Administration and Treatment of Prisoners Bill- 1998) was circulated to replace the Prison Act 1894 by the Government of India to the respective states but this bill is yet to be finalized.
  • Laws dealing with prisoners:

    The Indian Penal Code, 1860.

    (ii) The Prisons Act, 1894.

    (iii) The Prisoners Act, 1900.

    (iv) The Identification of Prisoners Act, 1920.

    (v) Constitution of India, 1950

    (vi) The Transfer of Prisoners Act, 1950.

    vii) The Representation of People‟s Act, 1951.

    (viii) The Prisoners (Attendance in Courts) Act, 1955.

    (ix) The Probation of Offenders Act, 1958.

    (x) The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.

    (xi) The Mental Health Act, 1987.

    (xii) The Juvenile Justice (Care & Protection) Act, 2000.

    (xiii) The Repatriation of Prisoners Act, 2003.

    (xiv) Model Prison Manual (2003). THE DARKER SHADES OF THE PRISON ARE:-

    Solutions to the problem:

    • States bear a heightened obligation towards prisoners because when they deprive someone of their basic human rights, they assume a duty to care.
    • Providing better living conditions including adequate accommodation, food , and water, sanitation and healthcare, access to light , fresh air and exercise.
    • There should be specific standards related to needs of particular groups such as women and children.
    • Use of alternative for women together with gender sensitive criminal justice and penal policies.
    • Developments and face challenges in prison management, including security issues and violence, prison labour and violent extremism in prison is the need of the present time.
    • The management of prisons must be marked by firm discipline, but also due regard to the human rights of prisoners.
    • All deaths in custody and disappearances of prisoners shall be properly investigated.18
    • A detailed register shall be kept of every person deprived of liberty.
    • All interrogation rules, instructions, methods and practices pertaining to detained and imprisoned persons shall be kept under systematic review with a view to preventing torture.
    • National legislation regarding health and safety at work shall apply in prison in the same way as it does in the community.
    • Vocational training shall be provided, especially for young prisoners.
    • Anyone whose rights and freedoms have been violated has the right to an effective remedy, determined by a competent court. Access to effective complaints systems, as well as independent external inspection and monitoring mechanisms are important safeguards to ensure the rights of inmates. 


    Prison reforms are not only about amenities and conditions; they must also address the prisoners’ right to life with dignity. In order to ensure the basic human rights of prisoner’s education and cultural activities shall be provided and encouraged, including access to an adequate liberty. Establishing laws in line with international and regional standards for the treatment of prisoners is key to the establishment effective criminal justice system.

    Key facts:

    There are number of international standards contain requirements for the treatment of prisoners and detention conditions. These includes:

    The Revised UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (The Nelson Mandela Rules).

    2. The UN Convention against Torture.

    3. The UN Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders (The Bangkok Rules), include for the treatment of women prisoners which meet their specific needs.

    Prison overcrowding



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