Towards reducing India’s prison footprint

Source: The post is based on the article “Towards reducing India’s prison footprint” published in The Hindu on 3rd January 2023.

Syllabus: GS 2 – Governance

Relevance: measures needed to prevent overcrowding of prisons

News: Lieutenant-Governor of Delhi in June last year directed the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) to allocate land to Delhi’s prison department to construct a district prison complex in Narela to prevent overcrowding.

How is the district prison complex in Delhi being built up?

The prison is to be constructed in two phases, the first for high-risk offenders and the second for undertrials.

In phase 1, a high-security jail is to be built in the complex with a capacity to lodge 250 high-risk prisoners.

High walls are being constructed between cells to prevent prisoners from viewing others, and interacting with each other, as well as building office spaces between cells to facilitate surveillance.

The Delhi prison administration is creating solitary confinement which can have a severe harmful effect on prisoners’ mental health.

Therefore, L-G’s claim to decongest Delhi’s prison complexes by setting up prisons in Narela is not appreciable and not a proper way of preventing overcrowding.

What are the reasons behind overcrowding of prisons?

One of the reasons behind it is that India has not done enough to truly prevent crime. Dalits and Adivasis are over-represented in Indian prisons.

As per a report, social, systemic, legal, and political barriers are the reason behind this. Laws such as the Habitual Offenders Act and Beggary Laws allow the police to target Dalit and Adivasis for reported crimes.

Furthermore, prisons in India are still governed by the colonial law Prisons Act, 1894. It treats prisoners as sub-par citizens, and provides for strict punishment rather than rehabilitation.

What can be the way ahead?

President Murmu said that rather than building more prisons to prevent overcrowding we must adopt measures like releasing unwell or old inmates, reducing penalties, allowing bail at affordable costs, etc.

India is a progressing country, so its approach to crime should be preventive rather than reactive.

Therefore, the L-G should work with the Delhi government to channel public funds towards public goods such as housing, education, and employment, so that crimes could be prevented.

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