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Prison Reforms in India

Context: The Centre has decided to launch a special scheme named ‘support for prisoners’ to provide financial support to prisoners who are unable to afford the penalty or the bail amount.

About the ‘Support for Prisoners’ Scheme

  • Objective: By providing financial support to poor prisoners, the scheme will help them get out of prison and decongest the prisons.
  • Implementing agency: Ministry of Home Affairs
  • Key features of the scheme:
    • Under the scheme, the Centre will provide financial support to States to extend relief to those poor prisoners who are unable to avail bail or get released from prisons due to non-payment of fine, on account of financial constraints.
    • To further strengthen the process, technology-driven solutions will be put in place to ensure that benefits reach the poor prisoners.
    • The scheme will work towards strengthening of District Legal Services Authority and sensitization and capacity building of stakeholders to ensure that quality legal aid is made available to needy poor prisoners.

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 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.
  • Various committees for prison reforms in India:
    • The Indian jail reform committee: Macaulay’s Minute of 1835, was responsible for laying down the foundations of the prison system in India.
    • Justice Mulla committee: The Mulla committee was set up in 1980 to review the laws, rules, and regulations for protecting society and reforming offenders. The committee opined that the government was duty-bound to provide dignified living conditions for prisoners.
    • Justice Krishna Iyer committee: The Iyer committee highlighted the plight of women prisoners and suggested the need to induct more women into the Police Services and management. It suggested a gender-sensitive approach in prison management.
    • Justice Roy committee: The committee made recommendations with respect to issues such as overcrowding in prisons and correctional homes and recommend remedial measures.
    • Justice Malimath Committee: The committee suggested reforms such as replacing the death penalty with life imprisonment without commutation or remission

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