JAIL REFORMS:

The Supreme Court constituted a three-member committee headed by its former judge Justice Amitava Roy to look into the aspect of jail reforms across the country and suggest measures to deal with them.

A bench headed by Justice M B Lokur said the panel will look into the issues including over-crowding in prisons.

The Supreme court on August 27 had reserved its order on the issue of constituting a committee to deal with issues pertaining to jails and suggest reforms for prisons across the country. The committee will also look into the various issues concerning women prisoners.

PROBLEMS PLAGUING INDIA’S PRISONS:

Prisons are a state subject in India, which means that their administration and control fall under the respective state governments, who are at liberty to make rules and regulations.

Over the course of several years, numerous PRISON MANUALS, committees and guidelines have been formed, but structural changes in prisons largely remain insignificant in political discourse.

The Supreme Court took cognisance of the disturbing picture of prisons in 2016 after examining the conditions of the then 1382 prisons of India.

The Supreme Court, in its landmark decision in Ramamurthy v. State of Karnataka, has identified nine major problems which need immediate attention for implementing prison reforms.

The court observed that the present prison system is affected with major problems of; 

a) Overcrowding
b) Delay in trial
c) Torture and ill treatment
d) Neglect of health and hygiene
e) Insufficient food and inadequate clothing
f) Prison vices
g) Deficiency in communication
h) Streamlining of jail visits and
i) Management of open air prisons

As per the data on Prison Statistics of 2015, 67.2 percent of prisoners in India are still at the undertrial stage.

The presumption of innocence is a well-accepted norm and a deep-rooted principle in the Indian criminal system.

However, due to the exceedingly long investigation process and prolonged court orders, innocent individuals end up languishing in jail.

This has an unfavourable domino effect on the condition of prisons including staffing, facilities and management, resulting in an adverse impact on the mental and physical state of prisoners.

To rectify the issue of undertrials, the Criminal Procedure Code through Section 436A provides that undertrials who have served half the maximum sentence of the offence committed, are eligible to be released on personal bond, with or without surety.

However, with little or no implementation and supervision, the situation has deteriorated to an extent that the Supreme Court has acknowledged (as recently as 2018) that overcrowding in jails is well above 100 percent, and in some cases, even exceeds 150 percent.

To put forward the argument of “why should prisoners receive basic facilities when the general public is not well off themselves?” or “prisoners don’t deserve resources because they are hardened criminals” paints a dismal view of India’s progression towards being a welfare state. After all, the state has a duty towards the preservation of life of its citizens, whether behind bars or not, under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.

The demographic trend of prisoners narrates another distressing story. At least 65.9 percent of the total convicts hail from the weaker sections of society.

Further, the majority of inmates are illiterate or have only studied up to Class 10. This phenomenon arises either because the Indian judicial system is inherently biased, in recognising that disadvantaged sections are pushed into petty crimes, or due to the lack of adequate legal representation and financial resources.

Ultimately, this outcome is unacceptable under the directive principle Article 39A, albeit a non-binding one, which provides for the state to strive for equal opportunity and free legal aid for all.

CRIME AND PUNISHMENT

On numerous occasions, courts have come forward to declare that the Indian criminal system is based on a reformatory and rehabilitative approach.

However, the ground situation emphasises the opposite: a strong inclination towards retribution and deterrence.

This is because we as a society want these criminals to be ‘punished’ and to feel ‘pain’ in the conventional sense. The social theory behind ‘eye for an eye’ is further strengthened by the legislative approach in introducing the death penalty and harsher punishments for certain offences.

Certain rebalancing and changes in the prison structure are desperately needed;

The voice of 4,19,623 inmates cannot be stifled due to the sole reason that they are the ‘bad people’ (which in the majority of cases is yet to even be proved). Thus, challenging the status quo becomes real, desperate and ever so required.

HOW PRISON REFORM IN INDIA DIFFER FROM WEST?

  •  In India, prison reforms did not emerge out of the social movement but were necessarily an outcome of the worst conditions of treatment faced by the political sufferers in prisons during the period of their imprisonment. They repeatedly launched protests with the prison authorities and made all possible efforts to see that the rigours of prison life are mitigated and prisoners are humanly treated.

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