All civic societies’ principal role is to punish violators. Throughout history, prisons have been documented. Prisons have been around since the beginning of time. The perpetrators were thought to be reformable with strict isolation and prison conditions. Experience, on the other hand, contradicted this notion, and imprisonment frequently had the opposite effect. With the advancement of behavioural sciences, it became clear that confinement alone would not be enough to change offenders.
The true goal of incarcerating criminals is to turn them into law-abiding citizens by instilling a dislike for crime and criminality in them. In practice, however, prison officials attempt to change convicts by using coercion and coercion-like measures. As a result, the convicts’ transformation is only ephemeral, lasting just as long as they are in jail, and as soon as they are freed, they are drawn back to criminality.
Reforms of Indian prisons have become a very heated issue in recent years. There has not been much hope for reforming the prisons in India even after many committees consisting of respected academics and experts have been formed. In 1957, the government of India set up a committee to draft a jail manual that laid out all the rules and regulations related to the proper management of the prison system.
Among the topics addressed in the report were prisoners’ living conditions as well as security issues in prisons. According to the Krishna Iyer Committee, another government committee created in 1987 shared the same beliefs as the Mulla Committee. It also emphasized the need for a prison system that focuses on the welfare of women and the necessity of having more women working in prisons as officials, a strategy that advocates a more gender-sensitive approach.
Inmates in Indian prisons
Indian prisoners were treated with hatred and faced harsher conditions than animals. A uniform civil code did not exist in India to guide punishment. In essence, punishment meant crushing the prisoners. Prisoners were treated cruelly by jailors.
According to the second Jail Enquiry Committee in 1862, several Indian prisoners died due to illness and disease because of the insanitary conditions in their jails. Specifically, the Committee stressed the importance of providing proper food and clothing to prisoners as well as an appropriate medical treatment for inmates who are ill. Prisoners Act was enacted to make prisoners’ working conditions uniform. In the Act, prisoners were classified according to their crimes and whipping sentences were abolished. Prisoners in 1866 had access to a wide range of medical facilities, however, these were improved and better amenities were provided for women inmates to minimize contagious illnesses.
Major problems across the jails in India
Despite India’s relatively low prison population in comparison to some other countries, it has some very similar problems across its jails, and the problem is likely to be the same or worse in many other developing countries. The following sections discuss a few of the major problems in the Indian prison system.
- Congestion in Jails
There has been concern regarding jail overcrowding, particularly among undertrials. In 1970, the National Jail Census conducted by the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration reported 52% of jail inmates awaiting trial. To reduce prison overcrowding, it is imperative to drastically reduce the number of prisoners awaiting trial. A heavy court workload and complicated procedures prevent speedy trials, as well as prevent the police from producing witnesses on time. Speedy courts have helped in a significant way, but they have not made any significant difference as far as pendency is concerned. So long as the current ‘culture of adjournments’ persists, increasing the number of courts will not have the desired effect.
- Corruption by prison staff
A large number of prisons throughout the world are plagued by the corruption of staff and its less controversial corollary. A bribe is used to supplement guards’ salaries when they provide contraband or special treatment to inmates.
- Poor living conditions
Living conditions in prisons are not suitable due to overcrowding. There have been a few jails around the country that have improved their conditions concerning diet, clothing, and cleanliness, but in most prisons, poor living conditions still exist.
- Prisoners not treated equally
In Indian prisons, there is the existence of a rigid class system. According to it, under their system, prisoners from the upper class and middle class receive special privileges regardless of the crimes they have committed or their behaviour during their stay in prison.
- Insufficient legal assistance
Legal aid is only available at the time of trial for those without the means to retain counsel, but not when the detainee is brought to remand court. Most of the prisoners have not yet been tried, the country’s system of legal representation offers little value to those in poverty before they can be tried. A lot of them don’t have access to lawyers at the time when they need this type of help.
- Custodial torture
Another major problem of jails in India is the torture and brutal physical treatment by police officers. Prisons are often the scene of third-degree tortures, and they often go unnoticed, although cases like this are occasionally brought to the public’s attention by the media or the human rights commission. Police staff frequently disregard the proper treatment of prisoners as stated in the prison acts and various manuals, as well as the guidelines of the apex courts. This often results in the deaths of prisoners in their custody. These tortures entail mental and physical trauma on the victims, and recovery from such traumas sometimes take a long time.
In State of Gujarat v. Hon’ble High Court of Gujarat, it was noted by the court that prisoners are entitled to minimum wages for the work they do inside jails. Once their sentence period is over, they will be able to integrate into society once again.
In the case of M H Hoskot v. State of Maharashtra, under article 39A of the constitution, it is the responsibility of the state to ensure prisoners are provided with free legal assistance.
Human rights law protects prisoners from being deprived of their freedom due to their convictions on any offences, and prisoners are those deprived of their liberty for these offences. It is necessary, though, to respect a person’s basic dignity when they have been arrested or convicted. A human right to dignity is protected by the universal declaration of human rights and by Article 21 of the Indian constitution. A well-designed and well-trained prison staff should be appointed to monitor safety measures, and provisions of security for prisoners mentioned in jail manuals must be strictly followed. Judicial officers must conduct regular and timely inspections. To ensure effective social rehabilitation of inmates, all police and administration organs must work together.
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