As per the National Crime Records Bureau’s 2021 statistics, there were a total of 5,54,034 people in prisons across India, as against a capacity of 4,25,609. The management and administration of Prisons falls exclusively in the domain of the State Governments, and is governed by the Prisons Act, 1894 and the Prison Manuals of the respective State Governments.
Under trial Prisoners are detained under Section 167 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) which provides for “Procedure when investigation cannot be completed in 24 hours”. The original Cr.PC of 1898 specified the period of detention as 15 days. Later, through amendments, it was extended to periods that can go up to 90 days and, in some exceptions, to an indefinite period. This is a huge violation of the basic human rights of UTPs, who are already facing the issue of inadequate healthcare facilities and torture by other rowdy prisoners.Moreover, it is a huge injustice to the families of the UTPs. For example, their children are denied a normal childhood, proper education, and are exploited by a cruel section of the society and are forced to take to the path of crime.
Prisons in India are a neglected area and many prisons in India are still functioning in the manner in which they were made by the British. There is a need for revaluation of our viewpoint of jails. The following reforms can be brought:
1. To de-congest prisons, the Code of Criminal Procedure (Amendment) Act, 2005, which contains the much-needed Section 436-A needs to be activated. It provides for an under-trial to be released on a personal bond, with or without sureties if the under-trial has spent half of the period of prescribed imprisonment in detention.
2. The central government in 2016 introduced the ‘Model Prison Manual’ – the government considered aspects such as human rights, the rehabilitation of prisoners in society, the rights of female prisoners, laws for prison inspection and the right to education even for death row convicts. Only 11 states and Centre-administered Union territories have adopted the new manual. All states must be urged to adopt it.
3. There is a need to make jails modern and technologically adept with stringent security measures, and to introduce better living and health facilities, libraries, and training programmes for prisoners to help them get back to society and initiatives to promote mental development.
4.All states should establish a welfare wing comprising welfare officers, law officers, counsellors and probation officers, under their respective prison departments.
5. All the state governments should link prisons with courts through video conferencing in order to expedite trials and to save costs of escorting undertrials to courts.
6. At periodic intervals, combined training of prison, police, health department and judiciary on undertrial management should be conducted. Separate training module on deradicalisation of prisoners should also be conducted.
7. The states should fill the existing vacancies in all ranks of prison departments expeditiously.
8. The nomenclature of Prisons Department may be changed to “Prisons and Correctional Administration“ as recommended by MHA (Ministry of Home Affairs). As per the changed nomenclature, it should have integrated prison, correctional and probation services.
Of those who are convicted, 90 per cent are those who return to society. Hence, the jail department is a major component of the nation’s internal security and should not be neglected.
Punishment is necessary for society. However, it is the responsibility of the jail administration to ensure that jails become a medium for such people who are not ‘born criminals’ or ‘criminals by nature’ to get back to society.”