2017-CGS-20: Current Affairs for UPSC Mains

GS-II: Mechanisms and Laws for Vulnerable Sections

Various Issues around Prison Reforms

Prisons are a subject of state list in Indian constitution. The prisons in most states in India face problems of overcrowding, corruption, discrimination, inequality, issues of sanitation, food and health related issues. The women prisoners face sexual violence and so on.  The issue of prison reforms came into limelight in early 1980s when K.F. Rustamji highlighted the cause of undertrials and critical conditions of the prisons.

Factbox: K F Rustamji

Khusro Faramurz Rustamji is perheps the only police officer in India, awarded by  Padma Vibhushan. He must be noted for role played by him in plight of prisoners and undertrials. He was instrumental in setting up of the National Police Commission in 1970s. In late 1970s and early 1980s, he visited the jails in Bihar and witnessed the plight of the undertials. Two of his newspaper articles became basis for the first PIL Hussainara Khatoon vs State of Bihar. His efforts led to release of around 40,000 undertrials.

Important Committees on Prison Reforms

To examine the conditions of prisons and prisoners in the country, government had constituted several panels. The courts are have also passed several landmark judgments towards this including the historic judgement in Hussainara Khatoon vs State of Biharcase. Two most important committees on prison reforms are Justice Mulla Committee Report (1983) and Justice Krishna Iyer Committee on Women Prisoners Report (1987).

Justice Mulla Committee

This committee had given a number of recommendations of which the notable recommendations are given below:

  • Since “Prisons” is state subject and central government has little say in it; it should be moved to concurrent list.
  • The government should come up with a National Policy on Prisons.
  • Government should establish a permanent National Commission on Prisons. This commission should submit its annual report on prison related matters to parliament.
  • In every state and UT a Department of Prisons and Correctional Services should be set up.
  • Government should try to develop a well organized prison cadre based on appropriate job requirements.
  • An All India Service namely the Indian Prisons and Correctional Service to be constituted to induct better qualified and talented persons.
  • Government should promote research in the field of criminology and penology and to conduct detail study in the context of emerging patterns of crime in the country. This will help in proper classification of offenders
  • To incorporate the “principles of management of prisons & prisoners” in the DPSP.
  • Undertrial prisoners should not languish in the jail and there should be procedure for speedy trial and simplified bail process
  • The committee suggested the government to use alternatives to imprisonment such as community service, forfeiture of property, payment of compensation to victims, public censure, etc.
  • Living conditions in every prison, custody care, rehabilitation centres should be compatible with human dignity in all aspects such as accommodation, hygiene, sanitation, food, clothing, medical facilities, etc.
  • Offenders should be provided with adequate opportunities for diversified education, development of work habits and skills, change in attitude, modification of behaviour and implantation of social and moral values.
  • Payment of fair wages and other incentives of leave, remission and premature release to convicts for improvement of their behaviour should be incorporated.
  • Appropriate security provisions should be made for custody suites
  • The management of prisons must take care of human rights of prisoners
  • The State shall provide free legal aid to all needy prisoners.
  • Children (under 18 years of age) cannot be sent to prisons. There should be a separate institution for them with facilities for their care, education, training and rehabilitation.
  • Young offenders (between 18 to 21 years) shall not be confined in prisons meant for adult offenders.
  • Proper arrangements shall be made for the care and treatment of mentally ill prisoners.
  • Those convicted for non-violent socio-political economic agitations for public cause shall not be confined in prisons along with other prisoners.
  • Government should encourage voluntary participation of the community in prison programmes and should authorise selected eminent public-men to visit prisons and give independent report on them to appropriate authorities.
Justice V. R. Krishna Iyer Committee on Women Prisoners

The committee under the chairmanship of justice V. R. Krishna Iyer submitted its report on women prisoners in the year 1987. The major recommendations of the report are as follows:

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