Prison Reforms and draft National Policy on 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 Bihar case. 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:

  • There should be necessary provisions to restore the dignity of women even if convicted under criminal code. Government should make use of all possible material, moral and spiritual resources for the purpose.
  • Since women are a marginalized group, they are vulnerable to exploitation even inside the prison. So there should be separate institutions for women offenders. And the staff for these institutions should comprise of women employees only.
  • The committee emphasised on need for security, discipline, holistic programmes, adequate standards of prisons, and human rights, etc., because all these play a significant role in preventing women offenders from psychosis and neurotic disorders.
  • The trial and bail processes for unconvinced women should be fast accompanied with facilities for women offenders to meet their loved ones even during the trial.
  • Women prisoners experience helplessness in comparison to their male counterparts in defending themselves in court. So, government should provide free legal aid to all women offenders.

Committee under BPR&D

In 2005, the Government of India constituted a high powered committee under the chairmanship of Director General, Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D). This committee used the reports of Justice Mulla Committee Report & Justice Krishna Iyer Committee and made several additional and new recommendations. It also drafted a National Policy on Prison Reforms and Correctional Administration, 2007.

This committee came up with some novel recommendations such as provision to provide for aftercare and rehabilitation, appointing officers for legal aid to prisoners etc. At the same time, some of the recommendations were absolutely impractical. For example:

  • It recommended making it compulsory for the prisoners sentenced to simple imprisonment to participate in prison work programmes. This goes against the principle of deterrence, one of the foundations of modern criminal jurisprudence.
  • It suggested amending Section 305-B of the Code of Criminal Procedure, making it mandatory for the trial judge to award the maximum sentence in cases where the accused contests the charge levelled against him or her. This is again an outrageous suggestion that goes against principles of fair trial, as provided by Article 21 and Article 22 of the Constitution.
  • It suggested awarding compensation to victims of crimes from the wages earned by prisoners serving rigorous imprisonment. This is against the constitutional provision and moral standards as this will be the case of double jeopardy where a person is punished twice for the same crime. One is with imprisonment and other with deduction in wages.
  • It recommended the inclusion of senior police officers in prison administration to induce the cooperation of the police in prison reforms. But for ensuring such cooperation in prison administration, correctional services would be much better option rather than inclusion of police officers in the same.

Draft National Policy on Prison Reforms and Correctional Administration

The draft National Policy on Prison Reforms and Correctional Administration is still in draft stage though it calls for placing prisons in concurrent list. This paper has taken its inputs from the earlier reports and some key aspects / modalities of the policy are as follows:

  • Amending the constitution to include principles of prison management and treatment of undertrials under DPSP; and including prisons in concurrent list.
  • Enactment of uniform and comprehensive law on matters related to prisons.
  • A department of Prisons and Correctional Services to be opened in each state and UT.
  • State will evolve proper mechanism to address issues of undertrials.
  • State shall endeavour to provide alternatives to prisons such as community service, forfeiture of property, payment of compensation to victims, public censure, etc.
  • State shall improve the living conditions in every prison and allied institution.
  • State shall endeavour to develop the field of criminology and penology.
  • Under the National Prison Policy, the government plans to include nearly 200 new prisons buildings in the country.

Current Government Policy

Central government recently announced a package of Rs. 4000 for implementing prisons reforms in the country. State governments are being encouraged to sell off prisons situated in “prime areas” to generate funds to create modern buildings with facilities such as cushioned beds, clean toilets, closed-circuit TV cameras, video-conferencing facilities, and space for yoga, sports and extra-curricular activities.

End Notes

As per latest report, in 2016, India’s judge-population ratio was 17 judges per million, which is among the lowest in the world. There are more than two crore cases pending in courts, and almost 67% of people in Indian jails are undertrials. Therefore, the first step to improve the pathetic conditions of prisons and prisoners must be to improve judge-population ratio in the country. Furthermore, the government with the help of prison administration should create educational, vocational, meditation and yoga centres for them. The meditation and yoga centres have proved very effective in improving the self-regulation skills and control of emotions. Also, the use of department correctional services in the prison management can prove extremely effective. Beside all this, government should also provide financial support to voluntary organisations working on the rights, welfare and rehabilitation of the prisoners. Thus, irrespective of government’s dismal efforts to deal with the problems of undertrials, all above mentioned initiatives will at least provide prisoners enjoy certain human rights.

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