The word prisoner means any person who is kept under custody in jail or
prison because he/she committed an act prohibited by law of the land. A prisoner
also known as an inmate is anyone who against their will is deprived of liberty.
This liberty can be deprived by forceful restrain or confinement. Prisoners
rights deal with the rights of the inmates while behind bars. Prisoners have
basic legal rights that can't be taken away from them.The basic rights
include right to food and water, right to have an attorney to defend himself,
protection from torture, violence and racial harassment. Section 1 of the Prison
Security Act1992, defines the term prisoner. The word prisoner means any person
for the time being in a prison as a result of any requirement imposed by a court
or otherwise that he be detained in legal custody. This paper presents the
rights of the prisoners in detail with related case laws.
2. 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 peoples and migrant workers. Some of these treaties are
complemented by optional protocols that deal with specific issues or allow
people to make complaints.
a. UN Charter:
The charter of the United Nations was signed on 26 June 1945, in San Francisco,
at the conclusion of the United Nations conference on international
organization, and came into force on October 24 1945.
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
#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
#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
#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.
b. International Bill of Rights:
I. Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
In 1948 a movement was started in the United Nations in the form of Universal
Declaration of Human Rights which was adopted in the General Assembly of the
United Nations. This organic document is also called as Human Rights
Declaration. This important document provides some basic principles of
administration of justice. 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.
#Every one 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.
ii. The International Covenants On Civil And Political Rights, 1966:
The ICCPR remains the core instrumental treaty on the protection of the rights
of the prisoners. Following relevant provisions of the covenants are as:
#No one shall be subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or
#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
C. UN Core Conventions And Specific Instruments:
# Standard Minimum Rules For The Treatment of Prisoners:
Amnesty International in 1955 formulated certain standard rules for the
treatment of prisoners. Some important relevant rules are as follow:
# Principle of equality should prevail; there shall be no discrimination on
grounds of race, sex, colour, religion. Political or other opinion, national or
social origin, property, birth or other status among prisoners.
# Men and women shall so far as possible be detained in separate institution;
# Complete separation between civil prisoners and persons imprisoned by reason
of criminal offence; young prisoners should be kept separate from the adult
# All sorts of cruel inhuman degrading punishments shall be completely
# Availability of at least one qualified Medical officer with the knowledge of
# Convention Against Torture And Other Cruel, Inhuman Or Degrading Treatment Or
#State party has to take effective legislative, judicial and other measures to
prevent acts of torture.
#No state party shall expel, return or extradite a person who is in danger of
being subjected to torture.
#State party should ensure that all acts of torture are offences under its
3. Indian Law:
The rights guaranteed in the part III of Indian Constitution are available to
prisoners; because a prisoner is treated as a person in prison.
Article 14 contemplated that like should be treated alike, and also provided the
concept of reasonable classification. This article provides the basis for prison
authorities to determine various categories of prisoners and their
classification with the object of reformation. Indian constitution guarantees
six freedoms to citizens of India, among which certain freedom can#t be enjoyed
by the prisoners. They are #freedom of movement#, #freedom to residence and to
settle# and #freedom of profession#. But other freedoms conferred in this
article are enjoyed by the prisoners. Moreover, constitution provides various
other provisions though cannot directly be called as prisoner#s rights but may
be relevant. Among them are Article 20(1), (2), and Article 21 and Article
B. Enactments And Rules:
1. The Prisons Act, 1894:
This act is the first legislation regarding prison regulation in India. The
following are some of the important provisions regarding prisoner#s rights:
#Accommodation and sanitary conditions for prisoners.
#Provisions relating to mental and physical state of prisoners.
#Examination of prisoners by qualified medical officer.
#Separation of prisoners for male, female, criminal, civil, convicted and under
#Provisions for treatment of under trials, civil prisoners, parole and temporary
release of prisoners.
2. The Prisoners Act, 1990:
#It is the duty of the government for the removal of any prisoner detained under
any order or sentence of any court, which is of unsound mind to a lunatic asylum
and other place where he will be given proper treatment.
#Any court which is a high court may in case in which it has recommended to
government the granting of a free pardon to any prisoner, permit him to be at
liberty on his own cognizance.
3. The Transfer of Prisoners Act, 1950:
This act was enacted for the transfer of prisoners from one state to another for
rehabilitation or vocational training and from over-populated jails to less
congested jails within the state.
4. The Prisoners (Attendance in Courts) ACT, 1955:
This Act contains provisions authorizing the removal of prisoners to a civil or
criminal court for giving evidence or for answering to the charge of an offence.
C. Cases Decided By Supreme Court And High Court:
1.D.B.M.Patnaik v. State of Andhra Pradesh
The SC asserted that the mere detention does not deprive the convicts of all the
fundamental rights enshrined in our constitution.
2. Hiralal Mallick v. State of Bihar
In 1977 the SC stressed for the rehabilitation of prisoners and reformation of
3. Sunil Batra v. Delhi Administration
The court held that #the fact that a person is legally in prison does not
prevent the use of Habeas Corpus to protect his other inherent rights#.
4. Prem Shankar Shukla v. Delhi Administration
The court held that no person shall be hand-cuffed, fettered routinely for
convince of the custodian#s escort.
5. R.D. Upadhyay v. State of A.P and Ors.
The right to fair treatment and right of judicial remedy are pre-requisites of
administration of prison justice.
6. Hussain Ara Khatun v. State of Bihar
Court adopted a dynamic and constructive role with regard prison reforms. Court
apart from other things stressed on the improvements of the conditions of the
prisons in India.
D. Policy Documents, Government Schemes
# Government of India appointed a National Expert Committee on women prisoners
(1968-87) under chairmanship of Justice Krishna Iyer to examine the conditions
of women prisoners.
# National Conference on Human Rights of Prisoners on 14thNov. 1995, consensus
was emerged to work out the draft law on prisons. A Core Group has prepared a
Draft Bill namely, the Indian Prisons Act, 1995 which was circulated to State
Governments for their consideration and also to the Ministry of law. But the
bill is still pending under consideration of the Government of India.
4. Regional Law:
A. European Convention On Human Rights (1953-69):
This convention has its own history in the importance of human rights. Some of
the important provisions of this convention are as follows:
#No one shall be deprived of his life intentionally save in the execution of a
sentence of a court following his conviction of a crime for which this penalty
is provided by law.
#No one shall subject to inhuman treatment or degrading treatment or punishment.
#Everyone who is deprived of his liberty by arrest shall be entitled to take
proceedings by which the lawfulness of his detention shall be decided speedily
by a court and his release be ordered if the detention is not lawful.
#Everyone who been the victim of arrest in contravention of the provisions shall
have an enforceable right to compensation.
The Supreme Court in US in Manna v. people of Illinoissaid that life is not
merely animal existence. The souls behind the bar can#t be denied the same. The
rights guaranteed by Art.21 are for every person and not even the state could
deny it. Prisoners also have all the rights which a free man has under some
restrictions. Just being in prison doesn#t deprive them from their fundamental
 UDHR, 1948, Article.1
 ICCPR, 1966, Article.10
 standard minimum rules for treatment of prisoners, adopted by Aug.30,1955
 Prison Laws In India: A socio-legal study by Mudasir A. Bhat
 AIR 1974 (SC 2092)
AIR 1977 (SC 2237)
AIR 1978 (SC 1675)
AIR 1980 (SC 1535)
AIR 2001 (SCC 437)
AIR 1979 (SC 1377)