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Mass jailing of undertrials must end

  • Published
    14th Feb, 2022
Context

The Prisons Statistics of India (PSI) 2020, released recently, provides a disappointing picture of the prisons in India suffering from overcrowding, delays in trials and unavailability of proper medical health facilities to the prison inmates.

Background

Prison Reforms

  • Article 14, 19, 20, 21 and 22 deal with the rights of prisoners.
  • Art 39 (a) Fair justice also deals with Prisons.
  • Prisons is a State subject.
  • Administration and management of prisons is the responsibility of respective State Governments. However, the Ministry of Home Affairs provides regular guidance and advice to States and UTs on various issues concerning prisons and prison inmates.

Prison Statistics of India (PSI) 2020

  • The recently released Prisons Statistics of India (PSI) 2020 gives a glimpse of how successful the prison decongestion and medical safeguards have been.
  • The 2020 report does not contain any Covid-19 specific data.
  • Between December 2019 and December 2020, prison occupancy reduced marginally from 120% to 118%.
  • The pandemic year (2020) witnessed nearly 900,000 more arrests than in 2019.
  • In absolute numbers, in December 2020, there were 7,124 more people in jail than in December 2019.
  • The increase in the share of under-trials in prisons was at an all-time high. PSI 2020 puts the percentage at 76% in December 2020: An increase from the earlier 69% in December 2019.
  • The people who are undertrials are those yet to be found guilty of the crimes they have been accused of.

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.
  • 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.

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.
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