The use of imprisonment as a form of punishment has changed over time. Most
nations worldwide today, including India, views prisons as centres for reforming
the behaviour of criminals instead of just a method of punishment. The
importance of creating a positive prison environment is further emphasized in
MHA's recommendations for managing prisons: "The atmosphere of prisons should be
surcharged with positive values and the inmates should be exposed to a wholesome
environment with appropriate opportunities to reform themselves."
List II, Schedule VII of the Indian Constitution lists prison and its
administration as a State Subject. Prison facilities are divided into
numerous tiers, including central jails, district jails, and sub jails, as well
as women's jails, borstal schools, open jails, and special jails. The number of
people incarcerated has dramatically expanded over the past few years, posing
problems with security, hygiene, and overcrowding, among other things.
The Indian courts have allegedly stated that it is necessary to acknowledge the
rights of convicts and enhance their living conditions. A prisoner must be
acknowledged as a human being who is entitled to all fundamental human rights,
as well as human dignity and sympathy, according to the Hon. Supreme Court's
affirming beliefs of prisoners' fundamental rights.
The dire situation of
prisoners, especially female prisoners, is deplorable and urgently needs
improvement, according to a global accord. The Bangkok Rules were established
by the UN General Assembly in 2011 and set forth guidelines for the treatment of
women in jail as well as specific non-custodial punishments for female
criminals. The UN General Assembly enacted the Nelson Mandela Rules in 2015,
which established the global minimum norm for the treatment of prisoners,
Since the colonial era, there have been significant changes in how women
prisoners are treated in India. Women who committed crimes during the colonial
era, regardless of how petty they were, faced heavy punishment. Flogging,
lashing, and forced labour were some of the cruel and degrading punishments.
Solitary confinement, which frequently caused serious mental health issues in
prisoners, was frequently used against female inmates. In 1870, Mumbai (then
Bombay) opened its first prison for women in India. Initially housing both male
and female inmates, it was known as the Byculla Jail. The Mahila Prison, a
special prison for female inmates, was however constructed in 1896.
The Indian Jail Committee suggested in 1919 that women inmates be kept apart
from men and in charge of female jailors. In Naini, Uttar Pradesh, a specific
female prison was built in 1925. This prison provided special housing and
amenities for female offenders, including a delivery room. But until the 1970s,
men continued to run most of the rest of the jails in India. The treatment of
female convicts saw considerable modifications in the 1970s because of the
recommendations made by the National Committee on Women's Status and the Law. It
- Separate accommodation
- Recreation and occupational facilities for women
- Vocational training
- Providing education
- Employing female staff
Regulations For Women In Prison
All matters relating to prisons, reformatories, borstal institutions, and other
institutions of a like nature, as well as the people detained there, as well as
agreements with other States for the use of prisons and other institutions, fall
under the purview of state governments, according to the State List provided in
the Seventh Schedule of the Indian Constitution.
The laws that must be followed
govern the prison regulations:
- Indian Penal Code, 1860
- Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973
- Prison Act, 1894
- Prisoner's Act, 1900
- Identification of Prisoner's Act, 1920
- Model Prison Manual, 2016
- Model Prison Manual, 2003
- Prisoner (Attendance in Court) Act, 1955
- Probation of Offenders Act, 1958
- Repatriation of Prisoner's Act, 2003
- Exchange of Prisoner's Act, 1948
- Transfer of Prisoner's Act, 1950
The Indian government often set up various committees, commissions, and working
groups to research and provide recommendations for administrative and physical
changes to prisons. A few of these are:
- All India Jail Manual Committee, 1957
- Working Group on Prisons, 1972
- All India Prison Reforms Committee, 1980-83 (Mulla Committee)
- All India Group on Prison Administration, Security and Discipline, 1986 (R. K. Kapoor Committee)
- National Expert Committee on Women Prisoners, 1987 (Justice Krishna Iyer Committee)
A report with 658 recommendations, including 35 specifically for women in
prison, was submitted by the committee, which Justice A. N. Mulla served as
chair of, in 1983. Among these are the segregation of female inmates into
distinct, exclusive institutions or annexes, the hiring of entirely female staff
for women-only prisons, and the widespread use of probation for female
- Women prisoners should be informed of their rights under the law.
- Special prosecution officers should be available to present the case of women prisoners.
- Only women constables should conduct searches on women prisoners.
- Women prisoners should be allowed to keep their children with them.
- Women prisoners should be allowed to contact their families and communicate with their lawyers, social workers, and voluntary organisations.
- Separate jails should be provided for women.
- Women doctors should do medical check-up of women prisoners as soon as they are admitted to prison.
To create a Model Prison Manual, the All-India Model Prison Committee, led by
Director General BPR&D, was established by the Government of India on the
Hon'ble Supreme Court's instruction. The Model Prison Manual, which had been
produced, was distributed to all state governments and UT administrations in
December 2003 for adoption to improve the supervision and management of prisons.
But as time went on, it became apparent that the Manual needed to be updated to
be relevant. As a result, in December 2014, the Ministry of Home Affairs
established an Expert Committee to update and revise this Manual.
The 2016 revision of the Model Prison Manual places a strong emphasis on prison
computerization, women's prison special provisions, after-care services, prison
inspections, the rights of death row inmates, the repatriation of foreign
detainees, and a tighter focus on prison correctional staff. According to a
Ministry of Home Affairs advisory dated May 4, 2017, all state and UT
administrations should revise their current prison manuals by incorporating the
guidelines from the National Model Prison Manual, 2016, with the goal to
maintain basic uniformity in prison rules and regulations.
In 2007, a national policy on prison reforms and correctional administration was
also created, and it included several instructions pertinent to women prisoners,
including upholding prisoners' human rights and preventing overstays for pending
cases. It goes on. It further states, Women prisoners shall be protected
against all exploitation. Work and treatment programmes shall be devised for
them in consonance with their special needs.
Progress In Relation To The Treatment Of Women Prisoners In India
Indian prisons have a long history of brutal and inhumane treatment of women
detainees. Discrimination, overcrowding, a lack of access to healthcare, and
physical and sexual assault has all been commonplace experiences for female
convicts. The condition of women convicts has, however, recently improved thanks
to actions taken by the Indian government. A programme to offer legal support to
women prisoners was introduced by the Ministry of Women and Child Development in
2018. Additionally, the government has created separate prisons for women that
are better suited to meet their needs.
A few non-governmental organisations (NGOs) measures have also been made to help
improve the circumstances of women prisoners as an addition to these efforts.
For instance, the Restorative Justice Initiative, a non-governmental
organisation with headquarters in Delhi, strives to offer legal assistance,
counselling, and vocational training to women convicts. NGOs have also tried to
guarantee that female convicts have access to needs like sanitary pads, hygienic
water, and nourishing meals. In addition, they have pushed for assistance for
women prisoners' mental health and rehabilitation programmes.
Issues Faced By Women Prisoners In India
In India, discrimination and brutality against women convicts are frequent
occurrences. Sexism is pervasive, and male law enforcement and prison staff
frequently assault women sexually. Most women in prison are from
underrepresented communities like the Dalits, Adivasis, and other minority
groups, putting them susceptible to abuse and exploitation.
Out of about 1,300
prisons, there are 31 women's jails in 15 States/Union Territories (UTs)
including Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat, Delhi,
Karnataka Maharashtra, Mizoram, Odisha, Punjab, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh, and
West Bengal. The state of West Bengal has the highest occupancy rate (142.04%)
in its women jail followed by Maharashtra (138.55%) and Bihar (112.5%).
The major issues faced by women prisoners are as following:
- Poor living accommodations or overcrowding of prisons:
One of the most serious issues both male and female convicts in Indian prisons deal with is this. According to the National Prison Manual's rules, prisons furnish cells and barracks of a specific size. The ideal number of inmates to house in a barrack is 20, and in a dormitory, it should be four to six. Due to poor hygiene and health conditions caused by overcrowding, even small diseases spread swiftly. The situation is made worse by the disproportionally small number of bathrooms and restrooms. The psychological repercussions of overcrowding on prisoners who must share such close quarters are severe. Prisoners are required to be held separately after conviction, despite having been found guilty and awaiting trial; but, because of severe capacity restrictions, this is sometimes not practical.
- Lacks essential amenities for sanitization and hygiene:
There is an increasing need to provide adequate sanitation facilities and access to menstrual hygiene products in India, where most female prisoners are between the ages of 18 and 50, or 81.8% of the total population. According to reports, some institutions charge for sanitary napkins or only provide a limited amount per month regardless of necessity, even though they should be given suitable sanitary pads to preserve their hygiene. Women are forced to use unsanitary materials like cloth, ash, fragments of old mattresses, newspapers, etc. because of this.
- The problem of women prisoners in India:
Custodial rape: In the case of State of Maharashtra v. C.K. Jain, there occurred rape while the subject was a prisoner of the police. Regarding the admissibility of the evidence, the Supreme Court emphasized that normal cooperation should not be required in these situations unless the prosecution's testimony was suspect. Second, it should be assumed that no woman would typically falsely accuse another woman of rape. Thirdly, there are perfectly acceptable reasons why the victim women delayed filing a complaint against the police, and the delay is not fatal. There was no room for compassion in the sentence; the repercussions ought to be severe.
- Lack of family support:
Women are disproportionately affected by incarceration because they frequently serve as their children's primary carers. Due to their increased isolation, this can make it harder for them to maintain relationships with their families and kids.
Treatment Of Women Prisoners In Other Countries
Due to the difficulties, they encounter while incarcerated, how prisoners are
treated has been a topic of discussion throughout the entire world. Women
convicts have historically received the same treatment as their male
counterparts in prison, which has led to prejudice and injustice. The treatment
of female convicts in various nations has, however, shifted over time to include
more gender-sensitive practises. Many nations have passed laws, adopted
policies, and implemented programmes to deal with the problems that female
In the United Kingdom, for instance, the government created the "Corston Report"
in 2007, which made several recommendations for changes to the criminal justice
system to better serve the unique needs of women convicts. To address the core
causes of women's crime, such as domestic violence, mental health issues, and
substance abuse, the report emphasised the necessity for gender-sensitive
The Gender-Responsive Strategies for Women Offenders programme was created by
the National Institute of Corrections (NIC) in the US in 2008 with the goal of
offering women convicts training tailored to their gender. Through the provision
of trauma-informed care and other gender-sensitive interventions, the programme
aimed to address the needs of women who were in custody.
The Women Offenders National Framework is an all-inclusive strategy that the
Australian government devised to deal with female offenders. The framework seeks
to decrease the proportion of women incarcerated, expand the use of
community-based alternatives to incarceration, and enhance the services offered
to women in detention.
In a similar vein, the government of Canada unveiled the "Creating Choices"
report in 1990, which emphasised the demand for a gender-specific strategy for
dealing with female convicts. In addition to emphasising policies that address
the mental and emotional well-being of women in detention, the report advocated
giving women additional options for employment, vocational training, and
Treatment for female convicts has slowly but surely improved throughout the
world. There are currently many examples of the best ways to treat female
prisoners, including gender-responsive programming, care that is informed by
trauma, and alternatives to incarceration based in the community. With the help
they require for a successful reintegration into their communities, these
initiatives seek to lessen injustice and discrimination in the criminal justice
system and among women convicts.
- State of Maharashtra v. CK Jain:
In this case, there was rape in police custody. Regarding evidence, the Supreme Court emphasized that in such cases unless the testimony of the prosecution was unreliable, collaboration normally should not be insisted upon. Secondly, the presumption is to be made that ordinarily, no woman would make a false allegation of rape. Thirdly, delay in the making of the complaint is not fatal and quite understandable reasons exist for the delay on the part of the victim woman in making a complaint against the police. As far as the sentence was concerned there was no room for leniency, the punishment must be exemplary.
- Sheela Barse v. State of Maharashtra:
In this the court held that, interviews of the prisoners become necessary as otherwise the correct information may not be collected but such access has got to be controlled and regulated.
- Christian Community welfare council of India v. Government of Maharashtra:
In this case it was held by the Bombay High Court that woman should not be arrested after sunset and before sunrise and only in the presence of lady constables. The Court directed the State Government to set up a committee to formulate a comprehensive scheme for police accountability to human rights abuse and make special provisions for female detainees. This Right plays an important role in protecting the female prisoners from any sexual harassment and unforeseeable tortures.
- RD Upadhyaya v. State of Andhra Pradesh & ors:
It was said by the court that the child born out of a prisoner mother, their birthplace should not be recorded as 'prison' on their Birth certificate.
Prison life presents difficulties for female convicts. Studies have revealed
that women in jail are frequently careers before being imprisoned, have a
history of mental problems, and are frequently the targets of physical and
sexual abuse. It is crucial to understand and address the requirements of women
Here are some ideas for improving the treatment of prisoners who are
- To aid in their rehabilitation and prepare them for life after release, when they may bravely face the outside world and shed the stigma associated with them due to precognition, the inmates should be permitted to meet their parents and other family members. This goal is to be accomplished via the periodic furloughs granted to convicts in India under the Prisons Act and the rules formulated thereunder.
- More lenient treatment and regular visits with the women's children should be granted. It is especially important to show compassion to victims of sex crimes and to guarantee the moral upbringing of their unwed children. In
Francis Coralie Mullin v. The Administrator, Union Territory Delhi, it was decided that women convicts should also be permitted to see their sons and daughters more regularly, and that their treatment should be more lenient in this regard for those who are awaiting trial.
- Only female prison or police staff members should deal with female offenders. However, considering the significant costs associated with the process, the idea of establishing separate women's prisons that are only for female inmates does not appear to be feasible. So, the government needs to take up proper measures for this. In the case of R.D. Upadhyaya v. State of Andhra Pradesh and others, it was argued that the birthplace of a child born to a prisoner mother should not be shown as a "prison" on the kid's birth certificate.
- For female prisoners, it's crucial to provide a secure and healthful atmosphere. This can involve offering access to hygienic items, quality medical treatment, and clean facilities. Inmates should not be subjected to gender-based abuse or exploitation, which is something that prisons should make sure of.
- Prisoners who are female must be handled with respect and decency. Having female staff members on hand to attend to their needs, providing opportunities for education, and providing vocational training are some examples of how to do this. Pregnant women should not be shackled, and harmful practices like strip searches and isolation ought to be avoided.
- The Constitution of India, List II, Schedule VII
- SC Order in Re - Inhuman Conditions in 1382 Prisons dated 5th February 2016. W.P.(C) No.406 of 2013
- UN General Assembly adopted Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-Custodial Measures for Women Offenders (the Bangkok Rules) in 2010 (Available at:
- 6 UN Social & Economic Council adopted the revised Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Nelson Mandela Rules) in 2015 available at:
- Women Prisoners, available at: https://egyankosh.ac.in/bitstream/123456789/38918/1/Unit-3.pdf (last visited on 09.11.2018)
- Women prisoners in India available at: https://wcd.nic.in/sites/default/files/Prison%20Report%20Compiled.pdf (last visited 05.10.2024)
- http://mha1.nic.in/PrisonReforms/pdf/PRVOll_121%20to%20160.pdf as retrieved on 04.09.2017.
- Rama Murthy v. State of Karnataka, AIR 1997 SC 1739
- NCRB report 2019 on Prison statistics
- AIR 1990 SC 658
- United Nations rules for Treatment of Women prisoners available at:
- AIR 1990 SC 658
- 1983 2 SCC 96
- 1996(1) BOM CR 70
- AIR 2006 SC 1946
- AIR 1981 SC 746
- AIR 2006 SC 1946