The Supreme Court has once again made a strong observation on the situation of prisoners lodged in jails.
- The Supreme Court has issued instructions to all state governments to make changes in prison rules. Also, the court observed that prisoners sentenced to death should be allowed to meet psychiatrists.
- Upkeep of jails has not been undertaken for years. Toilets and sewage system are not cleaned in the jails. There is not enough room for children of prisoners in prison. The list of problems is endless.
- The management of prisons falls exclusively under the domain of the state government, as per the seventh schedule of the constitution. But not one State or Union Territory has bothered to prepare a plan of action, as directed by the court five months ago, to reduce crowding and to augment infrastructure so that more space is available to each prisoner.
- The court received some information about proposals for constructing additional jails, but has found that these are only ad hoc proposals, with no indication of either a time frame or the resources provided for building these facilities.
INDIAN PRISONS FACE THREE LONG-STANDING STRUCTURAL CONSTRAINTS:
- OVERCROWDING: Due to a high percentage of undertrials in the prison population
- According to the Prison Statistics India 2015 report by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), India’s prisons are overcrowded with an occupancy ratio of 14% more than the capacity.
More than two-thirds of the inmates are undertrials. Sixty seven percent of the people in Indian jails are undertrials – those detained in prisons during trial, investigation or inquiry but not convicted of any crime in a court of law.
- UNDERSTAFFING: The manpower recruited inside this prison is almost 50% short of its actual requirement.
- While 33% of the total requirement of prison officials still lies vacant, almost 36% of vacancy for supervising officers is still unfulfilled.
In the absence of adequate prison staff, overcrowding of prisons leads to rampant violence and other criminal activities inside the jails. About 12,727 people are reported to have died in prisons between 2001 and 2010.
Prison service staff are ill-trained, poorly paid, badly accommodated and often remain without promotion or any career advancement for years together. Senior positions of responsibility are inevitably filled by higher ranking personnel from the police who have neither the training nor experience to run prisons as anything more than holding cells with no thought of them possibly being correctional facilities.
- UNDERFUNDING: The inevitable outcome is sub-human living conditions, poor hygiene, and violent clashes between the inmates and jail authorities.
PROBLEMS FACED BY UNDERTRIALS
As a matter of fundamental rights guaranteed by the Indian constitution, undertrials are presumed innocent till proven guilty. But they are often subjected to psychological and physical torture during detention and exposed to subhuman living conditions and prison violence.
Stigma: Many lose their family neighbourhood and community ties and, more often than not, their livelihoods. Moreover, prison time attaches social stigma to them as individuals and as community members. Even their families, relatives and communities are not immune to disgrace and humiliation. Even after their acquittal, undertrials find their employability severely jeopardised for none of their faults.
Lack of access to legal representatives: Undertrials tend to have restricted access to legal representatives. Many undertrials are poor people accused of minor offences, locked away for long periods because they are not aware of their rights and cannot access legal aid. Lack of financial resources and a robust support system, and the limited ability to communicate with lawyers from within the jail premises hamper their ability to defend themselves in the court of law. This despite a landmark Supreme Court ruling that Article 21 of the constitution entitles prisoners to a fair and speedy trial as part of their fundamental right to life and liberty.
Undertrials often remain behind bars for years despite the provisions of Section 436A of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which came into effect in 2005. This section mandates the release, on personal bond with or without surety, of undertrial detainees who have been imprisoned for half the maximum sentence they would have received if convicted for the offence they are charged with. This section does not apply to those who could be sentenced to death or life term. But 39% of those charged for crimes under the Indian Penal Code couldn’t be punished with life term or death penalty, Prison Statistics 2014 show.
Women Jails: India’s women prisoner population has ballooned 61% over the past 15 years, far outstripping the male growth rate of 33%, but infrastructure growth hasn’t kept pace.
Women are often confined to small wards inside male prisons, their needs becoming secondary to those of the general inmate population. Their small numbers – they constitute 4.3% of the national population – ensure they remain low on policy priority and hence the coverage of facilities such as sanitary napkins, pre- and post-natal care for pregnant mothers is patchy.
The Model Prison Manual, drafted by the Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D), also calls for women doctors, superintendents, separate kitchens for women inmates, and pre- and post-natal care for pregnant inmates, as also temporary release for an impending delivery. None of these guidelines is consistently implemented across district and state jails.
Food rations are significantly smaller for women inmates than they are for male inmates.
The well-being of their children is one of the most traumatic and oft-ignored issues affecting women prisoners. Inmates, whether undertrials or convicts, need access to a woman counsellor, and this is a need that is almost never met. After her child turns six and is removed from the prison, the woman inmate often has no way of knowing how her child is being brought up or cared for in the outside world, and this alone can be torturous.
Sorry state of Natural Deaths: Too many prisoners are dying behind bars. Most are reported as ‘Natural Deaths’. Natural deaths inside custody however need further scrutiny.
- Firstly, because the person’s liberty is fettered in judicial custody; he/she is dependent on the state for the upkeep of their health. So, deprivation in this area cannot be termed ‘natural’.
- Secondly because the status of the inquiries conducted to investigate these deaths are not available in public domain. Suicides form the largest chunk of unnatural deaths. Also, mentioning an unspecified category such as ‘others’ does not make for a useful data category in understanding the causes of prison deaths.
SC has formed a Committee on Prison Reforms chaired by former apex court judge, Justice Amitava Roy:
- To examine the various problems plaguing prisons in the country, from overcrowding to lack of legal advice to convicts to issues of remission and parole
- Recommend remedial measures, including an examination of the functioning of Under Trial Review Committees, availability of legal aid and advice, grant of remission, parole and furlough.
- Probe the reasons for 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.
- Assess the availability and inadequacy of staff in prisons and correctional homes, suggest training and educational modules for the staff and assess the feasibility of establishing open prisons.
- Recommend steps for the psycho-social well-being of minor children of women prisoners, including their education and health.
- Examine and recommend measures for the health, education, development of skills, rehabilitation and social reintegration of children in observation homes, places of safety and special homes established under the provisions of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015.
- Complete the collection of data and information and make submit it in a year.