The Issues of Indian Prisons:
- According to the Prison Statistics India report of the National Crime Records Bureau, three out of four prisoners in Indian jails are undertrials.
- Among the undertrials, about 20% were Muslims, while about 73% were Dalits, tribals or OBCs.
- Delhi and Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) were found to have the highest ratio of undertrials in jails at 91%, followed by Bihar and Punjab at 85%, and Odisha at 83%.
- About 27% of all undertrials were found to be illiterate, and 41% had dropped out before Class X.
- In India prison occupancy on average increased from 115% to 133% in the last two years.
- In 2020, during COVID-19 pandemic, the Supreme Court of India issued directives to set up committees in each state to decongest prisons.
- However, within a year, most had only been released temporarily and were called back to prison.
- Chhattisgarh (222.5%), Madhya Pradesh (208%), and Uttar Pradesh (168%) are among the most overburdened.
- India’s prisons are understaffed by at least 33% with the highest vacancies found at the officer and correctional staff levels.
- The Model Prison Manual, 2016, lays down that there shall be at least one medical officer for every 300 prisoners.
- It has suggested one correctional officer for every 200 prisoners and one psychologist for every 500.
- However almost all the prisons are not able to reach this target.
The Committees for Prison Reforms
Justice Mulla Committee 1983:
- All India cadre for prison staff and Bringing prison under the concurrent list
- Government should form a National Policy on Prisons
- Government to use alternatives to imprisonment such as community service, etc.
Justice V. R. Krishna Iyer committee on women prisoners 1987:
- Separate institutions with women employees alone for women offenders.
- Necessary provisions to restore the dignity of women even if convicted.
Justice Amaitava Roy panel on prison reforms 2018:
- 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.
- The Supreme Court should pass directions to start the recruitment process against vacancies
- There should be use of videoconferencing for trial.
- 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.