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Open Prison for women

Published: 7th May, 2022


Tamil Nadu’s Minister for Law, Courts, Prisons and Prevention of Corruption recently said the government would consider setting up an open prison for women.


  • The philosophy on the basis of which the ‘open prison’ exists is reflected in the two dictums of Sir Alexander Paterson.
    • First, a man is sent to prison as punishment and not for punishment.
    • Second, one cannot train a man for freedom unless conditions of his captivity and restraints are considerably relaxed.
  • The need for having open penal and correctional institutions was recognised and extensively discussed in the first United Nation Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders held in Geneva in 1955.
  • The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, popularly known as the Nelson Mandela Rules, laid down the objectives of open prisons stating, that such prisons provide no physical security against escape but rely on the self-discipline of the inmates, provide the conditions most favourable to the rehabilitation of carefully selected prisoners.
  • The All-India Committee on Jail Reform constituted in 1980 recommended the government to set up and develop open prisons in each state and UT.


What are open prisons?

  • Open prisons have relatively less stringent rulesas compared to the controlled jails.
  • They go by many names like minimum-security prison, open air camps or prison without bars.
  • The fundamental rule of an open prison is that the jail has minimum security and functions on the self-discipline of the inmates.
  • The jail does not confine them completely but requires them to earn their living to support their families, living with them inside the jail.
  • Prisoners can move out of the prison for their work and are supposed to come back to the prison campus after their working hours.
  • Every state in India has a prison law, like the Rajasthan Prisoners Rules and Andhra Pradesh Prison Rules, 1979. Seventeen states are reported to have functional open jails with Rajasthan having 31 such prisons, the highest that any state has.

Who are eligible for open prisons?

  • Every state law defines the eligibility criteria of inmates who can be in an open prison.
  • The principal rule is that an inmate eligible for open air prison has to be a convict.

What are the benefits of open prison?

  • It will reduce overcrowding and operational costs of prison administration.
  • It will reduce the psychological pressure and lack of confidence among prisoners when they assimilate into society.
  • It goes with the repeated call to develop a humane attitude and reformative approach towards the offenders in society.

Criticisms of the Open Jails in India

  • Under-Utilisation: Open Prisons are under-utilised. These prisons have a capacity to accommodate 25776 prisoners however, only 3786 prisoners are currently in these prisons (as of 2015).
  • Lack of accountability: In most states a committee select prisoners and are not expected to provide reasons for their selections. Thus, they have no accountability which leads to partiality and corruption.
  • Applicability: There is no provision of Open Jails for under-trial prisoners.
  • Inadequate Open Prisons: Some states are concentrated with Open Prisons while some have just one and no Union Territory in India has an Open Prison. Due to the state list subject, this inequality exists among different states.
  • Outdated laws: The rules and laws governing the selection and administration are extremely old and thus unfit for the present situations.

About Prisons System in India:

  • Prisons, as penal and correctional institutions, have existed in India and abroad since times immemorial. Prisons confine criminals, convicts and under-trials.
  • The primary purpose of prisons is to isolate or alienate such people from the society.
  • They are jailed for a certain period but the purpose of reformation and rehabilitation is sometimes defeated due to the prison environment and the treatment meted out to prisoners.
  • The administration and management of the modern prison system in India is governed by the Prisons Act of 1894, which has its origins in the recommendations of the “Prison Discipline Committee” appointed in 1836 by Lord Macaulay, followed by constitution of four jail commissions to review the system from time to time. 

Prison Statistics in India

  • As on 31st December, 2020 there were more than 1,300 Jails in the country.
  • State of Rajasthan has the highest number (145 out of 1,306) of jails among the States/UTs followed by Tamil Nadu (142), Madhya Pradesh (131), Andhra Pradesh (106), Odisha (92) and Uttar Pradesh (73). These six States together cover 52.8 % of total jails in the country.
  • The highest number of under-trial prisoners were lodged in District Jails (50.0%, 1,86,089 under-trials) out of total 3,71,848 under-trials followed by Central Jails (36.1%,1,34,322 under-trials) and Sub Jails (11.9%, 44,402 under-trials) as on 31st December, 2020.
  • The country’s jails are crowded to 118% of their capacity, with a count of 4.33 lakh prisoners against a capacity of less than 3.81 lakh.
  • The ratio between the prison staff and the prison population is approximately 1:7.
  • Prisons Statistics of India (PSI) 2020 puts the percentage of under-trials at 76% in December 2020:

Major Issues related to Prisons in India

  • Overcrowding: One of the primary reasons for overcrowding of prisons is pendency of court cases. Overcrowding affects the already constrained prison resources and renders separation between different classes of prisoners difficult.
  • Under-trials: Two of every three prison inmates in the country are under-trials. The share of the prison population awaiting trial or sentencing in India is extremely high by international standards. For example, it is 11% in the UK, 20% in the US and 29% in France.
  • Corruption and extortion:Extortion by prison staff is common in prisons around the world. In exchange for contraband or special treatment, inmates supplement guards' salaries with bribes. Powerful inmates in some facilities in India enjoy cellular phones, rich diets, and comfortable lodgings, while their less fortunate brethren live in squalor.
  • Lack of legal aid: Lawyers in India are poorly paid and are often over-burdened with cases. Further, there is no monitoring mechanism to evaluate the quality of legal aid representation in most states.
  • Unsatisfactory living conditions: Overcrowding itself leads to unsatisfactory living conditions. Moreover, prison structures in India are in dilapidated condition. Lack of space, poor ventilation, poor sanitation and hygiene make living conditions deplorable in Indian prisons. Mental health care has negligible focus in Indian prisons.
  • Shortage of staff: In the absence of adequate prison staff, overcrowding of prisons leads to rampant violence and other criminal activities inside the jails.
  • Torture and Sexual abuse: Prisoners are subjected to inhuman psychological and physical torture. Sexual abuse of persons in custody is also part of the broader pattern of torture in custody.
  • Custodial deaths:In 2015, a total of 1,584 prisoners died in jails. A large proportion of the deaths in custody were from natural and easily curable causes aggravated by poor prison conditions. There also have been allegations of custodial deaths due to torture.
  • Underpaid and unpaid labour:Labour is extracted from prisoners without paying proper wages.
  • Inadequate security measures and management:Poor security measures and prison management often leads to violence among inmates and resultant injury and in some cases death.
  • Condition of women prisoners:Women prisoners face number of challenges including poor nutritional intake, poor health and lack of basic sanitation and hygiene. There are also alleged instances of custodial rapes which generally go unreported due to the victims’ shame and fear of retribution.
  • Discrimination:According to Humans Rights Watch, a “rigid” class system exists in the Indian prisons. There is rampant corruption in the prison system and those who can afford to bribe, often enjoy luxuries in prison. On the other hand, socio-economically disadvantaged prisoners are deprived of basic human dignity.
  • Lack of reformative approach:Absence of reformative approach in Indian prison system has not only resulted in ineffective integration with society but also has failed to provide productive engagement opportunities for prisoners after their release.
  • Lack of Mental Health Professional:There was only one mental health professional for every 21,650 prisoners in 2016, with only six States and one Union Territory having psychologists /psychiatrists.

Measures taken by the Government

  • Modernization of Prisons scheme:was launched in 2002-03. Various components included construction of new jails, repair and renovation of existing jails, improvement in sanitation and water supply etc.
  • E-Prisons Project:The E-Prisons project aims to introduce efficiency in prison management through digitization. The availability of these details on an electronic platform will be useful to track the status of prisoners and smooth functioning of the prison system.
  • Model Prison Manual 2016:The manual provides detailed information about the legal services (including free services) available to prison inmates.
  • National Legal Services Authority:It has launched a web application recently to facilitate the under trial prisoners with free legal services and make the legal services system more transparent and useful.
  • Draft National Policy on Prison Reforms and Correctional Administration: Its key provisions include:
  • Amending the Constitution to include principles of prison management and treatment of under trials under DPSP and including prisons in 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
  • State shall endeavour to provide alternatives to prisons such as community service, forfeiture of property, payment of compensation to victims, public
  • State shall improve the living conditions in every prison and allied institution.

Major Committees related to Prison Reforms

  • All India Prison Reforms Committee, 1980 (Mulla Committee):The Government of India set-up this Committee with the basic objective to review the laws, rules and regulations for protecting society and rehabilitating offenders. The Mulla Committee submitted its report in1983.
  • Krishna Iyer Committee, 1987:The Government of India set-up this Committee to undertake a study on the situation of women prisoners in India. It has recommended induction of more women in the police force in view of their special role in tackling women and child offenders.
  • Justice Amitava Roy panel, 2018:Supreme Court’s newly constituted Justice Amitava Roy panel will look into various matters including over-crowding in prisons and the issues concerning women prisoners.

Required Measures

  • Immediate attention: The issue of overcrowding in Indian jails requires an immediate attention. Sincere efforts should be made to improve living conditions which include better sanitation and hygiene, adequate food and clothing.
  • Focus on reformation: Efforts should be made to reform offenders in the social stratification by giving them appropriate rehabilitation and correctional treatment. Initiatives should be taken to impart vocational training to prisoners and ensure proper rehabilitation and social
  • The government must take initiative to improve the conditions of under-trial prisoners which can achieved by speeding of the trial procedure, simplification of the bail procedure and providing effective legal aid.
  • It is also important to address the issue of inadequate prison management by recruiting more prison staff, imparting proper training and undertaking modernization of prisons.
  • Issues related to custodial violence and sexual abuse should be dealt with effective monitoring and stringent punishments of those involved in such violence.
  • The concept of open prisonsshould be encouraged more as a correctional facility.


Prisons’ constitute important institutions which protects the society from criminals. To improve prison conditions does not mean that prison life should be made easy, it means, it should be made humane and sensible.

Practice Question

Q1. Briefly explain the concept of open prisons? Also, examine their significance in humanising criminal justice system.

Q2. Prisons Statistics of India (PSI) provides a grim picture of the prisons in India. In the backdrop of inhuman conditions in Indian prisons, discuss the need to relook at the prison system in India.

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