Prison Reforms – Part 1

Prison Reforms Part 1

Prison Reforms – Part 1

Who is a prisoner?

  • A prisoner can be defined as someone who is deprived of liberty and kept under involuntary restraint, confinement, or custody.

Types of Prisoners:

  • Inmates of prisons in Indian jails are categorised as convicts, undertrials and detenues.


  • A convict is a “criminal prisoner under sentence of a Court or Court-martial”.


  • An undertrial is a person who has been committed to judicial custody and against whom a criminal trial has been initiated by a competent authority which means that the trial is in process and has not yet been disposed off.


  • A detenue is a person detained in prison on the orders of the competent authority under any relevant preventive laws.

Rights of Prisoners:

Judicial Interpretations:

  • In the famous case of Charles Shobraj through Marie Andre’s v. The Superintendent, Tihar Jail, the Supreme Court held that:               “. imprisonment does not spell farewell to fundamental rights although, by a realistic re-appraisal, Courts will refuse to recognize the full panoply of Part III enjoyed by a free citizen”
  • The court also held that imprisonment of a prisoner is not merely retribution or deterrence but also rehabilitation.
  • Supreme Court in its cases such as DBM Patnaik v. State of Andhra Pradesh and, Sunil Batra v. Delhi Administration has emphatically stated that it must be realised that a prisoner is a human being as well as a natural person or a legal person.
  • In the case of State of Andhra Pradesh v. Challa Ramkrishna Reddy, the Supreme court held that a prisoner is entitled to all the fundamental rights unless curtailed by the constitution.

Constitutional Safeguards:

Article 14:

Equality before Law and Equal Protection of Law.
  • The prisoner even if convicted, does not lose the rights and protections granted by the constitution as well as the laws.
  • The restriction if and when imposed must be in accordance with the law.

Article 19:

Right to Freedom.
  • The prisoners have the right to enjoy freedom within the restraints of the law.
  • They have the freedom of assembly as long as it does not impact the maintenance of order within the prison.
  • The court has also criticised solitary confinement as violative of the fundamental right of the prisoner and hence must not be imposed unless deemed necessary due to violent or dangerous nature.

Article 20:

Protection in respect of conviction for offences.
  • No person shall be convicted of any offence except for violation of a law in force at the time of the commission of the Act charged as an offence, nor be subjected to a penalty greater than that which might have been inflicted under the law in force at the time of the commission of the offence.
  • No person shall be prosecuted and punished for the same offence more than once.
  • No person accused of any offence shall be compelled to be a witness against himself.

Article 21:   

Right to Life and Personal Liberty.
  • Supreme Court in Kharak Singh v. State of UP has expanded the definition of life under article 21 as more than mere existence like that of an animal.
  • In the case of Parmannd Katara v. Union of India, the court held that a doctor working at a government hospital is bound by duty to extend any type of medical assistance for preserving life.

Article 22:

Protection against arrest and detention in certain cases.
  • It also provides the provisions for preventive detention.
  • India is the only major modern democracy to have provisions for preventive detention in its constitution.

International Provisions:

International Human Rights Law:

  • International human rights laws protect people from racial discrimination, from torture and from enforced disappearances.
  • They also recognise the rights of specific groups of people, including women, children, and people with disability, indigenous people, and migrant workers.

UN Charter:

Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners was adopted and proclaimed by General Assembly resolution 45/111 of 14 December 1990.

The principles are as follows:

  • Prisoners shall be treated with inherent dignity and valued as human beings.
  • No discrimination on the grounds of race ,sex, colour, language, religion, political, national, social origin, property, birth, or other status.
  • Respect the religious beliefs and cultural precepts of the group to which the prisoners belong.
  • The responsibility of the prisons for the custody of the prisoners and for the protection of the society against crime and its fundamental responsibilities for promoting the well-being and development of all members of the society.
  • All prisoners shall retain the human rights and fundamental freedoms set out in UDHR, ICESCR, ICCPR and the optional protocol as well as such other rights as are set out in other United Nations covenants.
  • Right of the prisoners to take part in cultural activities and education aimed at the full development of the human personality.
  • Abolition of solitary confinement as a punishment, or to the restriction of its use, should be undertaken or encouraged.
  • Prisoners to undertake meaningful remunerated employment which will facilitate their reintegration into the country#s labour market and permit them to contribute to their own financial support and to that of their families.
  • Access to health services without discrimination on the grounds of their legal situation.
  • With the participation and help of the community and social institutions and with regard to the interest of victims, favourable conditions shall be created for the reintegration of the ex-prisoner into society.
  • The above principles shall be applied impartially.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

Among the provisions in the document are follows:

  • No one should be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
  • Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.
  • No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.
  • Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.

The International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights, 1966:

The relevant provisions of the covenants are:

  • No one shall be subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishments.
  • Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be subject to arbitrary arrest or detention.
  • All persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person.
  • No one shall be imprisoned merely on a ground of inability to fulfil a contractual obligation.