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Model Prisons Act, 2023

Context: The Ministry of Home Affairs has finalized a comprehensive Model Prisons Act, 2023 aimed at holistic reform of prisons and prison management in line with modern-day needs and with a firm focus on correctional ideology.

About the Model Prisons Act, 2023

  • The model law was drafted by the Bureau of Police Research and Development, as per directions of the home ministry.
  • The new model Act, which not only seeks to modernize the 130-year-old Prisons Act, 1984 but also assimilates updated provisions of the of Prisoners Act and The Transfer of Prisoners Act, 1950.
  • It is meant to serve as a guiding document for the states to bring matching amendments in their prison laws, with whatever modifications they may consider necessary.
  • The aim of the model Act is also to protect the society from the criminal activities of hardened criminals and habitual offenders, even as focus is laid on vocational training and skill development of the jail inmates to ease their reintegration into the society after release.

Salient features of Model Prisons Act, 2023

  • Provision for punishment of prisoners and jail staff for use of prohibited items like mobile phones etc. in jails.
  • Provision of security assessment and segregation of prisoners and individual sentence planning.
  • Provision for the use of technology in prison administration with a view to bringing transparency;
  • Proposes separate accommodation for women prisoners and transgender prisoners in the interest of their safety and well-being.
  • A grievance redressal system for prisoners, a prison development board and an attitudinal change towards prisoners is proposed.
  • The model Act also provides for video conferencing with the courts and scientific and technological interventions in prisons as part of reforming prison management.
  • It also has a provision for establishment of high-security jails for high-risk prisoners as well as open and semi-open jails for low-risk ones.
  • Importantly, the Act provides for legal aid to prisoners, apart from encouraging and incentivizing good conduct by prisoners through the provision of parole, furlough and premature release etc.

Prisons and their Governance in India

  • Prisons serve as correctional homes that are designed to punish and rehabilitate individuals who have been convicted of crimes.
  • They are an integral part of the criminal justice system (CJS) that deals with crime prevention, investigation, prosecution, punishment and correction.
  • Prison governance in India:
    • Prison is a State subject under List-II of the Seventh Schedule in the Constitution.
    • The modern prison system was conceptualized by TB Macaulay in 1835.
    • The management and administration of Prisons falls exclusively in the domain of the State Governments, and is governed by the Prisons Act, 1894 and the Prison Manuals of the respective State Governments.
    • However, the Ministry of Home Affairs provides regular guidance and advice to States and UTs on various issues concerning prisons and prison inmates.

Need for Reforms in Indian Prisons

  • Overcrowding of prisons: According to the ‘Prison Statistics 2021’, the average prison in the country has an occupancy rate of 130%.
    • This undermines the ability of prison systems to meet the basic needs of prisoners, such as healthcare, food, and accommodation.
    • This also endangers the basic rights of prisoners, including the right to have adequate standards of living and the right to the highest attainable standards of physical and mental health.
  • Undertrials: Based on the ‘Justice India Report 2022’, 77 percent of the prisoners were undertrials. The pendency of cases is a main reason for undertrials remaining in prison.
    • As these awaiting trial inmates come into touch with their incarcerated inmates, they get influenced into the world of crime.
  • Custodial Tortures /Deaths: Brutal physical treatment in custody by police official is another major problem of jails in India.
    • According to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in the last decade (2010-2020) on an average 5 people died in judicial custody every day.
  • Staff shortage: India’s prisons are understaffed by at least 33 per cent with the highest vacancies found at the officer and correctional staff levels.
    • This has increased the workload of the staff and is having an impact on the ‘correctional’ aspect of imprisonment.
  • Lack of infrastructure: Most jails in India suffer from lack of basic prison infrastructure such as sleeping quarters, hygienic washrooms, and health clinics.
    • The budgetary support for prison system has not increased proportionally to the population.
  • Hygiene: Indian prisons are considered some of the most unhygienic in the world. Prisoners housed in these prisons suffer from diseases such as jaundice, hepatitis etc.
  • Issues of women prisoners: There is a severe lack of female staff, inadequate numbers of toilets, bathrooms and other basic preconditions for sanitation and hygiene. They also remain particularly vulnerable to custodial sexual abuse.
  • Insufficient Legal Aid: There are many accused individuals who are forced to stay in prison due to their inability to pay legal fees to fight their case.
  • Mentality of the system: People involved in prison management suffer from a colonial hangover, which prescribes harsh treatment for prisoners. They still believe that prisoners must be treated harshly.

Various Committees and their Suggestions on Prison Reforms

Justice Mulla Committee (1983) All India cadre for prison staff and bringing prison under the concurrent list.

Government should form a National Policy on Prisons;

Government to use alternatives to imprisonment such as community service etc.

Justice V. R. Krishna Iyer Committee on Women prisoners (1987) Separate institutions with women employees alone for women offenders.

Necessary provisions to restore the dignity of women even if convicted.

Committee under the Chairmanship of Director General, Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D) (2005) It used the reports of Justice Mulla Committee Report and Justice Krishna Iyer Committee and made several additional and new recommendations.

It also drafted a National Policy on Prison Reforms and Correctional Administration, 2007.

Justice Amitava Roy Panel on Prison Reforms (2018)

  • Overcrowding:
    • Special fast-track courts should be set up to deal with petty crimes.
    • Lawyers – Prisoners Ratio: There should be at least one lawyer for every 30 prisoners;
  • Understaffing:
    • The Supreme Court should pass directions to start the recruitment process against vacancies.
    • There should be use of video-conferencing for trials;
  • Prisoners:
    • Every new prisoner should be allowed a free phone call a day to his family members to see him through his first week in jail;
    • Alternative punishments should be explored.

Various initiatives for the improvement of conditions in Indian prisons

  • Modernisation of Prisons (MoP) Project: Government of India has decided to provide financial assistance to States and UTs, through MoP for using modern-day security equipment in Prisons for
    • Enhancing the security of jails and
    • To facilitate the task of reformation and rehabilitation of prisoners through correctional administration programmes.
  • E-Prisons Project: The E-Prisons project aims to introduce efficiency in prison management through digitization.
  • Model Prison Manual 2016: The manual provides detailed information about the legal services (including free services) available to prison inmates.
  • Fast Track Courts: Fast Track Courts (FTC) are the type of courts that provide swift justice and are established after consultation with respective High Courts.
  • e-Courts Project: The project will streamline the judicial processes and transform the Indian Judiciary by ICT enablement of Courts. This will reduce pendency in the judiciary and help the litigants.

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