Prison Reform

Prison Reform

Author: Raj Aryan from Lloyd Law College and Anshul Goyal from Asian Law College

Mahatma Gandhi has said that one should hate the crimes, not the criminal. This doesn’t mean that criminals should not be punished for the crimes done by them. It just want to say that every individual are born equal and are provided with some basic human rights by the creator; but if an individual doesn’t cope up with the social ethics, then he needs to punished, mostly to bring the offenders and transform them into honest and law following citizens by keeping a distance from crime and criminality. But this basic motive of prisons and prisoners are being hindered by the prison authorities to bring out reformation as well as transformation by the use of force and compulsive methods. So, because of this reason, the time they get out of the jail got attracted towards criminality. It is for this reason that now the trend is to give prisoners a bit more care and importance so that they can again live a normal life in the society, as well as to avoid the prisoners from their exploitation by different means like use of force, going against the laws, or interfering in their rights, and many more.

Recent changes both in prison and prisoners:

  • A public interest writ petition (PIL) was filed relating to the disturbing conditions in prisons bringing attention towards the inhuman conditions going in 1382 prisons in India. The social justice bench of the Supreme Court has told that “Prison reforms have always been the subject matter of discussion, and decisions which are rendered by this Court from time to time. Though Article 21 of the Constitution requires a life of dignity for all humans, things appear to have changed, just on the ground as far as prisoners are concerned. So, it’s necessary that we should once again deal with issues relating to prisons in the country and their reform.” The bench finally issued certain directions concluding that the prisoners, like all human beings, deserve to be treated with dignity.
  • The Undertrial Review Committee should meet in every district, every quarter, and the first such meeting should take place on or before 31st March. The Secretary of the District Legal Services Committee should attend as well as follow up the discussions with appropriate steps, regarding the release of undertrial prisoners and to those convicts who have undergone their sentence or are entitled to release just because of remission granted to them.
  • The Undertrial Review Committee should look into effective implementation of Section 436 and 436A of the Cr.P.C. so that undertrial prisoners can be released at the earliest and those who cannot provide bail bonds due to their poverty are not subjected to imprisonment only for that reason. The committee will also look into issue of implementation of the Probation of Offenders Act, 1958.
  • The Director/Inspector General of Police in-charge of prisons should ensure that there is proper as well as effective utilization of available funds so that the living conditions of the prisoners is balanced with human dignity.
  • The Madras High Court had amended prison rules to hold that interactions between a prisoner and spouse should not be monitored. The Madurai bench of the Madras High Court held that under Rule 531(2) of the Tamil Nadu Prison Rules, every interview with a prisoner should take place in presence of an experienced prison officer.
  • Conjugal visits in prison are private meetings between a male or a female inmate with their spouse or partner, during which the couple may share intimacy or engage in whatever legal activity they desire.
  • Visits to prison by the family members of a prisoner should be encouraged, it should be considered worthwhile to consider extending the time of meetings and also to explore the possibility of using phones and video conferencing for communications, between a prisoner and family members of that prisoner; and also between a prisoner and the lawyer, whether appointed through the State Legal Services Authority or otherwise.
  • Medical assistance and facilities in prisons to prisoners need no reaffirmation. The right to health is absolutely a human right and all the State Governments should concentrate on making it a reality for all, including those of prisoners.
  • The Ministry of Women & Child Development of the Government of India is concerned with the implementation of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015 has been directed to discuss with the concerned officers of the State Governments and formulate procedures for categorizing the number of children who suffers an unnatural death in institutions where they are kept in custody because either they are in conflict with law they need care and protection.
  • The Union of India through the Ministry of Home Affairs will direct the NCRB to clarify as well as explain the distinction and reasons between unnatural and natural deaths in prisons. The NCRB should also be needed to subcategorize natural deaths. The Chief Justice of the High Court is requested to register a suo motu public interest petition with a view to identifying the next of kin of the prisoners having admittedly died an unnatural death as revealed by the NCRB.
  • Review the recommendations made in the report of the Ministry of Women and Child Development in collaboration with the National Commission for Women and the National Law University Delhi on ‘Women in Prisons’.
  • To examine violence in prisons and correctional homes and recommend measures to prevent unnatural deaths and assess the availability of medical facilities in prisons and correctional homes and make recommendations in this regard. To suggest training and educational modules for the staff in prisons and correctional homes with a view to implementing the suggestions.
  • To assess the feasibility of establishing Open Prisons, the possibility of and the potential for establishing Open Prisons in different parts of the country and give effect to the recommendations. To recommend steps for the psycho-social well-being of minor children of women prisoners, including their education and health.

Changes in prisoners  Reform

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, such as freedom of movement, right to life and personal liberty which are the inevitable consequences of imprisonment, but people in prison retain their human rights and fundamental freedoms.

  • Over 21000 undertrial prisoners released from Jails :

 It was noticed by Joint Selection Committee that in many cases the accused persons were kept in prisons for a very long period as undertrial prisoners and in some cases, the period spent in jail by undertrial prisoners far exceeded the sentence of imprisonment ultimately awarded. So, large numbers of prisoners, in the overcrowded jails of the country, were undertrial prisoners. 

  • In the landmark judgment the Hon’ble Supreme Court has held that if the Government fails to conduct a trial within a reasonable time, it violates the guarantee of the life and personal liberty enshrined in Article 21. A PIL was filed in the form of habeas corpus writ in the interest of undertrial prisoners, who were languishing in jails in the State of Bihar for years awaiting their trial.
  • The Supreme Court held that the “right to speedy trial’ is a fundamental right implicit and guarantee of “life and personal liberty” enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution. Speedy trial is an essence of criminal justice. Justice Bhagwati held that unlike the American Constitution speedy trial is not specially enumerated as a fundamental right, but it is implicit in the broad sweep and content of Article 21 as interpreted in Maneka Gandhi’s case. The court ordered to conduct the survey, which found that 21,000 undertrial prisoners were languishing in the prisons, who had spent the period of the maximum period of their alleged offence,
  •  Over 600 prisoners released from Tihar:

Against the strength of at what time 6500 inmates, over 13000 prisoners have languished in Tihar Jail. 623 prisoners were released on bail from Tihar Jail on the direction of Delhi High Court, including four women. They were facing charges of minor offences like the breach of peace and many were under preventive arrest. Such direction came from a court in a bid to decongest the jail, as it had seen eight deaths, including that of a prison official, within ten days. The court passed such direction after going through the report of a three-member committee appointed by it which pointed out those recent deaths in the jail happened due to overcrowding and lack of proper facilities. The jail authority claimed that all the deaths were natural due to excessive heat conditions.

  •  Acquitted or discharged of undertrial suffered more term:

The undertrial prisoners, who are accused of multiple offences and who have already been in the jails for the maximum term for which they be sentenced on conviction, even if the sentence awarded to them were consecutive and not non convention, should not be allowed to continue to remain in jail for a moment longer, since such continuance of detention would be clearly violative of not only of human dignity but also of their fundamental rights under Article 21 of the Constitution.

  •  The Government is directed to prevent unreasonable delay :

The Supreme Court directed the Centre and all State Governments to prevent unreasonable delay in the disposal of criminal cases. In order to make the administration of criminal justice effective, vibrant and meaningful, the Union of India, the State Governments and all authorities must take necessary steps immediately so that the constitutional right of the accused to a speedy trial does not remain only on paper. While it is incumbent on the court to see that no guilty person escapes, it is still more its duty to see that justice is not delayed and accused persons are not indefinitely harassed. The constitutional guarantee of speedy trial is an important safeguard to prevent undue and oppressive incarceration prior to trial; to minimize anxiety

  • Right to free legal aid :

A substantial part of the prison population in the country consists of undertrials and those inmates whose trials have yet to commence. Thus, access to court and legal facilities is essential for giving a free and fair trial to these inmates, which is the mandate of Article 21 of the Constitution. The Supreme Court condemns the fact that Session Judges were not appointing counsel for the poor accused in grave cases. The defence should never be refused legal aid of competent counsel.