While elucidating the constitutional and legal rights of Prisoners in India, discuss the practical deficiencies in exercise of these rights.

Constitution of India does not expressly provide the provisions related to the prisoners’ rights but in the case of T.V. Vatheeswaran v. State of Tamil Nadu, it was held that the Articles 14, 19 and 21 are available to the prisoners as well as freemen. Prison walls do not keep out fundamental rights.
Article 14 of the Constitution of India says that the State shall not deny to any person equality before law or the equal protection of laws within the territory of India. Thus Article 14 contemplated that like should be treated alike, and also provided the concept of reasonable classification. Article 14 is very useful guide and basis for the prison authorities to determine various categories of prisoners and their classifications with the object of reformation.
Article 19 of the Constitution of India guarantees six freedoms to the all citizens of India. Among these freedoms certain freedoms cannot enjoyed by the prisoners because of the very nature of these freedoms. But the “freedom of speech and expression” and “freedom to become member of an association” are not restricted.
Article 21 of the Constitution of India says that No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law. This Article stipulates two concepts i.e., right to life and principle of liberty. By Article 21 of the Indian Constitution it is clear that it is available not only for free people but also to those people behind the prison. Following are the rights of prisoners which are implicitly provided under the Article 21 of the Constitution of India:-

  • Right of inmates of protective homes
  • Right to free legal aid
  • Right to speedy trial
  • Right against cruel and unusual punishment
  • Right to fair trial
  • Right against custodial violence and death in police lock-ups or encounters
  • Right to live with human dignity

Apart from these rights of prisoners Constitution of India also provides following rights to the prisoners:-

  • Right to meet friends and consult lawyer
  • Rights against solitary confinement, handcuffing & bar fetters and protection from torture
  • Right to reasonable wages in prison

Prisoner’s Rights under the Prisons Act, 1894
Prisons Act, of 1894 is the first legislation regarding prison regulation in India. This Act mainly focus on reformation of prisoners in connection with the rights of prisoners. Following Sections of the Prisons Act, 1894 are related with the reformation of prisoners:-

  • Accommodation and sanitary conditions for prisoners
  • Provision for the shelter and safe custody of the excess number of prisoners who cannot be safely kept in any prison
  • Provisions relating to the examination of prisoners by qualified Medical Officer
  • Provisions relating to separation of prisoners, containing female and male prisoners, civil and criminal prisoners and convicted and under trial prisoners
  • Provisions relating to treatment of under trials, civil prisoners, parole and temporary release of prisoners.

In the year of 2016 the Parliament has been passed the Prisons (Amendment) Bill, 2016 to amend the Prisons Act, 1894 with a view to provide protection and welfare of the prisoners.
Practical deficiencies in the exercise of these rights:

  • Burdened Judiciary: The constitution envisages Judiciary as the guardian of the constitution. The overburdened judiciary has not been able to respond to the situation effectively.
  • Undertrails: Large number of under trails in the prison due to inability in accessing the legal aid has led to undertrails slogging in prisons. This has led to over crowed prisons.
  • Punitive structure: Even though the cardinal principle of Indian legal system is reformative the over active media and social media activism has transformed a view of judicial structure as punitive. Ex: The media trails and pressure on legal system during the Nirbhaya trail and the hurry during the passing of Juvenile justice bill.
  • Lack of awareness: Lack of awareness about the remedies, rights and mechanisms available and the inherent fear about the law enforcement agencies make people to be mute spectators.

The problems faced by prisoners have often led to interventions from National human rights council and Supreme Court. But they have been episodic rather than continuous process. Hence there is a need of an efficient accountability mechanism for protecting the interests of prisoners.


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