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Prison Reforms: A Distant Reality

Prison reforms in India has been a very heated and debated issue. Even after the formation of various committees consisting of venerated academics and experts in the field, there hasn't been much ray of hope when it comes to transforming the prisons in India. An all India Jail Manual Committee was established in the year 1957 to formulate a manual that would lay down the rules and regulations for the proper management of the prisons across the country.

In 1972, the government formed a working group to discuss and present before the government some suggestions regarding the management of prisons in India. On the basis of the recommendation of this working group, the government framed the covet National Policy on Prisons.

In furtherance of initiating reforms, the government formed the Mulla Committee, under the head of Justice Mulla. The primary aim of the committee was to look into the law, rules, regulations protecting society and reforming offenders. The committee finalised its report in the year 1983. The importance of the recommendations of the Mulla Committee is that the issues and problems discussed and highlighted by the committee are still relevant in today's time.

The committee highlighted points such as living conditions of prisoners as well as the security issues of the prisons. Another committee formed by the government in 1987 known by the name Krishna Iyer Committee had taken a view tantamount to that of the Mulla Committee. Apart from this, it had highlighted the need for  a prison system where the condition of women is given prominence and the need for and increase in the number of women officials working in prison, advocating a gender sensitive approach in the prison.

Major Issues 
With the passage of time the burden on the prisons has increased manifold. The number of inmates in the prisons have skyrocketed with limited amount of space and no change in the infrastructural facilities of the prison. There is an urgent need for medical specialist in the prisons. There are many prisons which have a dearth of doctors and specialist like dermatologists, dentists, etc. There are many inmates who are suffering from various diseases and deficiencies but no proper care is provided to them. Furthermore, there is no special arrangement for food for people who are sick in many prisons. The needs of women prisoners are neglected.

There are many women who are serving jail time but are pregnant and lactating. The needs of such women are neglected and not taken proper care of. An even more major concern is that of undertrials. There are numerous inmates who's hearings are pending before the higher courts but there is no separate arrangement for such individuals and they are languishing in jail with inmates who are declared by the courts as confirmed offenders. The committees mentioned above have laid emphasis on the point that prisoners should not be isolated from the society.

However we see that, there are no voting rights granted to prisoners and their conjugal rights are also compromised. Little priority has been given to the quality of food provided to the prisoners. One very imperative issue that has been neglected is that of juveniles languishing in jail. The committees have highlighted the importance of legal aid to be provided to the inmates, however progress for the same remains dormant.

Reforms Needed
A number of reforms are urgent in order to ensure that the prisons are brought to terms with the the recommendations of the committee. Some of these reforms are a need of the hour. One such much needed reform is the formation of new and independent prison bodies. There is a need to establish a department of prisons and national commission on prison.

The Prison Act 1884 is a very archaic piece of legislation and requires amendments and modifications to ensure that the system of prisons function in the present and according to the needs of the 21st century. Offenders belonging to the age group of 18-21 should not be confined to the  prisons meant for adult offenders.

A facility for rehabilitation and reconciliation with the society should be a norm in prisons. Apart from this, serious offenders must be provided with counselling facilities in order to ensure that the offender leaving the prison should not step out with a similar mindset with which he landed up in the prison in the first place. Another initiative should be to ensure that the prison population is limited and prisons don't overcrowd. This can be done by speeding up with the process of trials either by establishing fast track courts or by hearing matters in the digital mode. There is a covet need to look into the sanitation conditions of prisons as well as set up new ones which are well adapted with modern facilities. 

Judicial Perspective
In State of Gujrat v Hon'ble High Court of Gujrat, the court observed that prisoners are entitled to a minimum wage for the the work done by them inside jails. This would enable them to integrate with the society once again after their sentence period is over. In the case of M H Hoskot v State of Maharashtra, it is the duty of the state to ensure that free legal aid mentioned under article 39A of the constitution is provided to the prisoners. In Mohammad Giasuddin v State Of Andhra Pradesh, it was decided that prisons must play a therapeutic role in the treatment of social morbidity in the prisoner's guilt.

Conclusion 
Starting with the Mulla Committee, a number of key committees have been established, including the Malimath Committee, the Justice Krishna Iyer Committee, and, most recently, the Justice Roy Committee (2018), to examine the state of India's prisons and recommend reforms. However, reform implementation has been sluggish, and the required political will to effect change is lacking. Governments must value and appreciate the potential of jail convicts as members of our society who can contribute in the future if given proper correctional and reformative treatment.

The Supreme Court and the various High Courts have reiterated again and again about the need for prison reforms. However the government has turned a deaf year towards these calls and recommendation. A draft policy was also drafted but it had failed to provide a silver lining in the cloud. There is indeed a long road ahead in the field of prison reforms.

References:
  • https://www.ijlmh.com/paper/the-rule-of-strict-liability-and-absolute-liability-in-indian-perspective/
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prison_reform
  • https://www.humanrightsinitiative.org/content/prison-reforms
  • https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/mass-jailing-of-undertrials-must-end-7771426/
  • https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/mumbai/mumbai-3-years-on-panel-recommendations-on-prison-reforms-yet-to-be-accepted-7317813/
  • https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/topics/cl7zm7zk1glt/prison-reform
  • https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/prison-reforms-crucial-to-refining-the-justice-system/story-AoeUqa209w9feTovznLkTL.html
  • https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2021/feb/28/prison-reform-is-slow-but-could-the-will-to-change-be-growing

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