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Prison Reforms: Most Ignored Need of the Hour

Concept Of Prison

The origin of the concept of prisons cannot be traced back with conformity since different authors and jurists have different claims about it, but there has been no doubt about their existence since ancient times as shown by traces of it in our ancient stories and books, such as when Lord Krishna's parents were detained in a prison by his mother's brother because he believes that her 16th sorority is a threat to the family. However, as time passes, the goal of incarceration shifts. Previously, the goal of jail conditioning was to render incarceration deterrent, which resulted in the use of a variety of barbaric punishments.

Prisons were considered as a House of Captives, with inmates held for retributive and deterrent punishment. However, the objective of imprisonment has increasingly shifted from sheer deterrent to deterrence and reformation, with the deterrence component being used only in the rarest cases. Following Gandhi ji's saying that Hate the Crime, not the Criminal, today's prisons are purposefully designed to offer uncomfortable forced segregation from society so that inmates can rehabilitate themselves and comes out from the world of crime in the meantime.

Why We Need Reforms
Fyodor Dostoevsky once wrote that:
The degree of civilisation in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.

As previously mentioned, the goal of prisons is to transform prisoners so that they no longer pose a danger to society and can reintegrate into society as normal and prudent individuals; but, if we fail in this task, the consequences could be very threatening and situation can become worse. There are various loopholes in prison system which are not allowing us to achieve what we want. Let's take a look at them.
  1. Overcrowding:
    One of the most difficult challenges facing our criminal justice system is jail overcrowding. According to the National Crime Records Bureau's 2019 Prison Statistics Report, our country has 1350 prisons with a maximum capacity of 4,03,739 prisoners, but they are now occupied by 4,78,600 inmates, indicating that our prisons are at 118.5 percent capacity, which is an alarming number. This undermines the ability of prison systems to meet the basic needs of prisoners, such as healthcare, food, and accommodation. This also endangers the basic rights of prisoners, including the right to have adequate standards of living and the right to the highest attainable standards of physical and mental health

  2. Family Responsibilities:
    When a person is arrested, he loses his right to liberty, and when this person is the family's only breadwinner, it becomes really difficult for the family to simply exist outside of jail, forcing them to live in extreme poverty. In that way, the whole family lives the punishment of a single person and in cases family is the one suffers the most.

  3. No Separation:
    There is no separation between under trials from convicts, convicts of petty offences and serious crimes in our prisons. According to Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners 1955 by United Nations under trials must be kept separated from convicts, female from male, juvenile from adults offenders, civil offenders from criminal offenders. However, so little has been accomplished. According to the 2019 Prison Statistics Report, 70% of inmates in our jails are under-trials which is not a small number to ignore. As these awaiting trial inmates come into touch with their incarcerated inmates due to a lack of separation, they gets influenced into the world of crime by them, which contradicts the whole objective of our prison system as it may contribute to an uptick of criminality in community. This is why our jails are referred to as Recruitment Centers for the Army of Crime.

  4. Insufficient Healthcare facilities:
    One cause for alarm is the prison's health threats, as the medical care given to inmates is woefully inadequate. It has been noticed many times that the Health Care facilities provided to the prisoners are not quite enough. As Nelson Mandela said:
    It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.

    And after noticing our healthcare system inside prisons we cannot be pronounced as the good nation certainly and specially in this COVID time when there is a need for social distancing our prisons are overcrowded and government in not even showing any transparency in terms of the data about the infected prisoners.

  5. Lack of Hygiene:
    When a person get imprisoned he/she gets deprived from their right to liberty but their other rights remain intact and our constitution provide Right to live in a clean environment as our fundamental right under Article 21 but our prisons falls a way behind in providing these rights to the prisoners as Hygiene being always the problem of our prisons and this problem is that well known that when do a person even imagine of a prison or when a prison is being shown in the movie, there is always some very unhygienic and unliveable place. Even when Late Ms. Jayalalitha (former CM of Tamil Nadu) once sentenced to imprisonment, she was placed in the Madras Central Prison and when she got out of there, she shared her experience of the prison as:
    It is the most unhygienic, dirtiest prisons imaginable. A dark dungeon, it had not been swept or cleaned for years probably, there were cobwebs hanging everywhere, growth of fungus everywhere and all kinds of vermin crawling all over the place. You could have conducted a zoology class there. There were big rats, sewer rats, bandicoots. I had to sit or lie down on the bare floor, and our Madras Central Prison is situated bang on the banks of the Cooum river, which is nothing but an open sewer. It was stinking to high hell.

    This statement alone can show the pathetic state of hygiene in our prisons.

  6. State's say:
    In our country Prison falls under State subject in List II of the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution of India because of which Centre have very less or no say in case of prison, which is one of the main roadblocks to implementing a New Policy for Prisons.

What Have We Done So Far
When India gained independence in 1947, the memories of horrible conditions in prisons were still fresh in the minds of political leaders, and upon assuming power, they set about enacting prison reforms. A number of Jail Reforms Committees were appointed by the State Governments, to achieve a certain measure of humanization of prison conditions.

The Government of India took the first major step when it appointed Dr. W. C. Reckless, a U.N. Expert on Correctional Work, to review prison administration in the country and make recommendations for improvement.

He prepared a report called Jail Administration in India in which he made some recommendations to improve the state of India's prisons, only a few of which have been implemented, and till now several committee like All India Jail Manual Committee in 1957, Working Group on Prisons in 1972, Seventh Finance Commission in 1978, All India Committee on Jail Reforms under the chairmanship of Mr Justice A. N. Mulla in 1980, Krishna Iyer Committee in 1987 were appointed time to time which gave several important recommendations to improve the condition of prisons in our country.

But it seems like our Government is concerned about appointing these committees only. It seems so because out of plenty of these recommendations only a few are accepted till date which are obviously not enough keeping in mind the current state of our prisons.

While numerous suggestions made by various committees established by our government have gone unnoticed, there are a number of steps we should take to accomplish the primary goal of prisons while also assisting us in meeting international standards.
  1. As we all know, our jails are overcrowded. This issue can be addressed by building new prisons and the barracks, but only for the short term because building new prisons can not not the solution in the long run. We ought to reduce the number of inmates as the primary aim of our jails is to transform and train them to return to society as responsible citizens, and in order to do so, we must work on the following concepts:
    1. Open Prisons:

      It is a correctional institution in which inmates are trusted to serve out their sentences under limited supervision and are often not locked up in jails. They are free to go to work and return to the jail after working hours. This model of prison structure would train these inmates for life beyond their sentences, keep their families out of extreme poverty, and keep jails from being overcrowded.

    2. Improving the system of Parole and Furlough:

      Both of these were seen as a temporary suspension of the prisoners' sentences. However, we have found that in many cases that even though the inmate has a strong case, these are not provided. These decisions are left to be the discretion of some individuals. Given that our jails are now overcrowded, we should strengthen the parole and furlough systems so that inmates can maintain their social links while our prisons are less cramped.

    3. Fast-Track Courts:

      It is the fact that about 70% of our inmates are still under-trials, which means that a substantial portion of our prisoners have not yet been sentenced by the courts and are now living in jail as the criminals in the eyes of the socirty. To address this problem, more fast-track courts should be established to determine their destiny for good, and no innocent prisoner should be forced to spend too much time in jail. We recently saw the case a man named Vishnu Tiwari who came out of jail after 20 years living there as a rape accused and then found to be innocent.

  2. As we previously discussed, there should be a separation between different types of prisoners, and according to the United Nations' Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (1955), under-trials must be kept apart from convicts, female from male, juvenile from adult offenders, civil offenders from criminal offenders, so that no innocent or petty thief is influenced or blackmailed into the world of crime. This should be achieved as soon as possible because the lack of separation is only increasing the number of prisoners in our environment, and it is also the primary source of increasing crime rates within jails.

  3. As we know, prisoners' fundamental rights are still alive, with the exception of one i.e. Right to liberty but they can enjoy the right to live in a safe and secure atmosphere, which our jails are not generally providing. There should be adequately fitted laundries for cleaning, disinfecting, and fumigating clothes and beddings; latrines should be in a ratio of 1:7 prisoners; bathing cubicles should be in a ratio of 1:10 prisoners; and exposed gutters in jails should be covered. For all this to keep in check there should be proper inspection by the local bodies, NGOs so that they would not end up only on papers.

  4. Our prisons are still regulated with an age-old Prisons Act, 1894 with some minor amendments. We need an uniform and comprehensive legislation embodying modern principles and procedures regarding reformation and rehabilitation of offenders which could be implemented at the national level so that our prisons can be regulated in today's scenario.

  5. The subject of prisons should be transferred to the Concurrent List of the Seventh Schedule of our constitution, so that the Centre can have a say in prison changes as well, making it easier to enact a uniform rule for prisons in India.

  6. Basic healthcare offered in jails is seen as low-cost treatment, and there is a need to provide primary healthcare services to prisoners in standards no less that that provided to non-prison citizens of India. According to a recently released human rights survey, even primary health care facilities in Indian jails are of low quality. The majority of the time, it meant dispensation of one medication, which was presented to us as a pain reliever that decreased fever  maybe aspirin, according to the study. And, in order to do this, periodic inspections and check-ups must be performed inside our prisons.

  7. There are a slew of laws and conducts in place to protect inmates' interests, but in most cases neither the inmates nor the jail staff are aware of them, and this is where we fall behind the most. According to the study, there is a disparity in the number of inmates who are entitled for parole and those who are actually released. Under Section 436A of CrPC, undertrials will be freed on a personal bond after serving half of the cumulative sentence they would have received if convicted. Just 929 of the 1,557 undertrials liable for publication under Section 436A were released in 2016. According to Amnesty India's research, prison authorities are mostly oblivious of this section and reluctant to enforce it. These figures demonstrate how important it is to have well-trained personnel, and while we do not have control over the education of inmates, we do have control over the education of staff.

Prison reforms are being ignored in our country from the very long time now probably because prisoners don't constitute a vote bank or garner much sympathy. But now our government's carelessness is costing us at the international stage too, as we are unable to provide our prisoners with the rights that we promised at international forums such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, it is resulting for our country to perform poorly on the Human Rights Index. More importantly, criminals who have fled our country are taking advantage of these loopholes to avoid being extradited.

Extradition of fugitives under the UN Convention is strongly linked to the state of the country's jails. For example, fugitives like Nirav Modi and Vijay Malaya have been resisting extradition for a long time, citing the poor conditions in Indian prisons as a major reason. So, now is the time for the government to work on certain concrete issues that are urgently needed in light of the current situation.

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  2. India, l., 2021. Prison Reforms In Indian Prison System. [online] Available at: [Accessed 30 April 2021].
  3. Khan, U., 2021. iPleaders Blog - Legal Backdrop of Prison Reforms. [online] iPleaders. Available at: [Accessed 30 April 2021].
  4. 2021. PRISON REFORMS | Ministry of Home Affairs | GoI. [online] Available at: [Accessed 30 April 2021].
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  10. 2021. Prison Reforms in India: Policies v/s Practices | ProBono India. [online] Available at: [Accessed 30 April 2021].
  11. Hindustan Times. 2021. Prison reforms crucial to refining the justice system. [online] Available at: [Accessed 30 April 2021].
  12. Garewal, I., 2021. I don't think anyone has taken more criticism than I have: Jaya told Simi Garewal. [online] The New Indian Express. Available at: [Accessed 30 April 2021].
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  14. The Indian Express. 2021. Explained: The difference between parole and furlough. [online] Available at: [Accessed 30 April 2021].
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