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6th February 2021 – Editorials/Opinions Analyses

Content

  1. A prisoner’s tragedy, a nation’s shame

Editorial: A prisoner’s tragedy, a nation’s shame

Context:

  • Perarivalan has been in prison for almost 30 years for his role in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi during the 1991 election campaign. It really is a classic case of state agencies being unable to identify and arrest those at the heart of the conspiracy while sacrificing the lives of those who might have had a peripheral role at worst.

Relevance:

  • GS Paper 2: Indian Constitution—Historical Underpinnings, Evolution, Features, Amendments, Significant Provisions and Basic Structure.

Mains Questions:

  1. The Perarivalan case is an example of state agencies sacrificing the lives of those with a ‘peripheral role’ in a conspiracy. In this context, discuss the significance of prisoners reforms in India. 15 Marks

Dimensions of the Article:

  • Reasons for Prisoners reforms in India:
  • Measures taken by the government:
  • Recommendations of Law Commission:
  • Conclusion

Reasons for Prisoners reforms in India:

The Supreme Court, in Ramamurthy v. State of Karnataka has identified various problems which need immediate attention for implementing prison reforms.

  • Rampant Overcrowding: “Prison Statistics India”, brought out by National Crime Records Bureau stated that in 2015, there were nearly 4.2 lakh inmates in 1,401 facilities against the sanctioned strength of 3.83 lakh, with an average occupancy rate of 114% in most.
    • Due to overcrowding the segregation of serious criminals and minor offenders has turned out to be difficult, which can, in turn, cause bad influence over minor offenders.
    • Overcrowding results in restlessness, tension, inefficiency and general breakdown in the normal administration.
  • Delay in Trials: In 2016, 67% of the people in Indian jails are under trials which is extremely high by international standards like it is 11% in UK, 20% in US and 29% in France.
  • Torture and ill -treatment: The prisoners including the undertrials are forced to do severe labour without any remuneration and treated with utmost torture. There has been a continuous rise in the custodial deaths due to torture and ill-treatment. Women prisoners are more vulnerable to abuse.
  • Severe staff crunch: 33% of the aggregate prerequisite of jail authorities still lies vacant, whereas, the ratio between the prison staff and the prison population in India is approximately 1:7.
  • Inadequate prison infrastructure: Most Indian prisons were built in the colonial era, are in constant need of repair and part of them are uninhabitable for long periods.
  • Neglect of Health, Hygiene, food etc: The prisoners in India suffer from severe unhygienic conditions, lack of proper medical facilities and consistent risk of torment and misuse. The kitchens are congested and unhygienic and the diet has remained unchanged for years now.
  • Issue of women prisoners: Though not exclusively looking after female prisoners, there are just 9.6 % women across all levels of the prison administration in comparison to the 33 per cent suggested in policy documents.
  • Deficiency in Communication: The prisoners are left to live in isolation without any contact with the outside world, their family members and relatives.

Measures taken by the government:

  • The modern prison system was conceptualised by TB Macaulay in 1835.
  • Prison Discipline Committee, 1836, recommended increased rigorousness of treatment while rejecting all humanitarian needs and reforms for the prisoners.
  • Prison Act, 1894, enacted to bring uniformity in the working of the prisoners in India. The Act provided for classification of prisoners.
  • All India Jails Manual Committee 1957-59 to prepare a model prison manual. o The committee was asked to examine the problems of prison administration and to make suggestions for improvements.
  • All India Committee on Jail Reforms 1980-83 under Justice A N Mulla, suggested setting up of a National Prison Commission as a continuing body to bring about modernisation of prisons in India. Also, After-care, rehabilitation and probation as an integral part of prison service.
  • In 1987, the GoI appointed the Justice Krishna Iyer Committee to undertake a study on the situation of women prisoners in India. It has recommended induction of more women in the police force in view of their special role in tackling women and child offenders.

Recommendations of Law Commission:

  • All India Prison Service: The All India Committee on Jail Reforms (1980– 1983), under Justice A N Mulla recommended to develop an All India Prison Service as a professional career service with appropriate job requirements, sound training and proper promotional avenues.
  • Adherence of Model Prison Manual 2016 by all the States and UTs.
  • Uniformity of standards: Central Government along with NGO’s and prison administration should take adequate steps for effective centralization of prisons and a uniform jail manual should be drafted throughout the country.
  • Training & correctional activities:
    • Training to staff in using the latest technology, vocational training courses in cloth making, electrification etc for the inmates, facilities for recreational activities such as games and competitions for inmates and staff etc.
  • Infrastructure:
    • Technological up-gradations such as biometric identification facilities, prisoner information system, provision of CCTVs, video conferencing facilities, etc are needed.
    • Up-gradation of hospital infrastructure such as beds, equipment, testing facilities, vehicle during medical emergency, facilities for pregnant women etc are needed.
  • Staff: All vacant staff positions should need to be reassessed. Recruitment of additional staff including medical, guarding, correctional staff, clerical, etc
  • Fund flow: Mechanism to monitor fund flow from the State treasury department to the implementing agency.
  • Strengthening the open prison system, which has come as a very modern and effective alternative to the system of closed imprisonment.
  • Strengthening PLVs: In 2009, National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) brought out a scheme called the Para-Legal Volunteers Scheme which aimed at imparting legal training to volunteers to act as intermediaries between the common people and the Legal Services Institutions to remove impediments in access to justice ensure legal aid reaching all sections of people.
  • Increase the availability of justice services––and infrastructure in courts, police stations, legal aid clinics—in rural areas so as to reduce the present disparity in accessing justice that exists between rural and urban populations.
  • Draft National Policy on Prison Reforms and Correctional Administration, 2007 recommended:
    • Introduction of a provision for aftercare and rehabilitation services.
    • Establishment of a Research and Development wing, and financial assistance to nongovernmental organizations working for the rehabilitation of prisoners.
    • Community-based alternatives to imprisonment for offenders convicted for relatively minor offences.

Conclusion

Indeed, prisons in India make for a massive social organisation. Part and parcel of the larger criminal justice system, they make an invaluable contribution to upholding up the rule of law and, thereby, to the maintenance of law and order, peace and tranquillity, in society.

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June 2022
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