Healthcare for prisoners may sound absurd. How can and even why a criminal, who may have performed any heinous crime or may have tried to harm any innocent life be provided with such a care? This is possible question that may pop in our minds. But this question has an answer within the international treaties and conventions that entitle a prisoner to receive health care even within a prison premises. Even these prisoners have healthcare rights like right to receive healthcare and even have a right to not to contract a disease in a prison.
Our public health policies are aimed toward the goal that no should suffer from health problems but as always these prisoners are snapped out of this goal. Even prison jurisprudence acknowledges the very fact that a prisoner should not be devoid of some of his basic rights like the right to live in a healthy environment. But in a modern day scene, where prisons are packed with so many criminals, this right seems to have disappeared into thin air. Even though prisoners are examined for some common diseases like sexually transmitted diseases, HIV/ AIDS, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C are diagnosed once they start serving their sentence, but it becomes hard for the prison authorities to keep in check what kind of hidden diseases the different criminals bring with them. Even if it becomes possible, it becomes hectic for the authorities to keep in check who all move in and out of a prison in a day and what contagious disease they carry with them.
HIV and TB are found to be one of the most prevalent diseases in the inmates. Studies have found that around 1.7 percent males while 9.5 percent female prisoners were found HIV positive which is much higher than the national average of 0.32 percent for males and 0.22 for females. Reasons like drug usage and male – on – male sex in order to avoid irritation, anxiety or even boredom are the causes for the significant rise in number of cases in prisons.
In the case of Parmanand Katara vs. Union of India (1989 AIR 2039), the Supreme Court gave its landmark judgment regarding the health care in prison, wherein it held that the state has a duty to maintain to life regardless the individual is innocent or guilty of a crime. This landmark judgment further upheld the right to health under Article 21 even for prisoners.
The Supreme Court further addressed many such cases where the prison inmates where suffering from the lack of basic rights. In the case of Rasikbhai Ramsu Rana vs. State of Gujrat (1998 CriLJ 1347), where the seriously ill prisoners were not being provided with the necessary treatment and medication due to lack of transport facilities, the prison authorities were held negligent. The High Court of Gujrat ordered the upgrade the prisons with up to date medical facilities like ICCU, Pathology lab, expert physicians etc. In other such case of Sanjay v. State (CRL.A.600 OF 2000), the court ordered Tihar jail to arrange for meditational therapies and counselling of the criminals.
Overcrowding of the prison premises with criminals accused of committing several different crimes, it has become a hassle to maintain sanitation and segregate any seriously ill inmate from others. Lack of ventilation and room in the Indian prisons forces the prisoners to live in those deteriorating conditions and unnecessarily coming in contact with these contagious disease, which was not a part of their punishment. Although the state and prison authorities are much responsible for these inhumane conditions but even our legal system and courts have a part to play in this havoc. Our legal system on one hand doesn’t speed up the criminal proceeding against the accused and on the other hand doesn’t properly advocate for the basic rights of these prisoners.
In the new age, where mental problems are disturbing our mental health in every way possible, prisons are not an exception to this problem. Not only care of physical needs is necessary but the care of emotional and mental health has become a requisite. Lack of communication and help from the authorities, force the prisoners to sink in deep depression, which in turn takes a toll on their mental health and forces them to take up serious steps like suicide as a way out. Suicide has been the prominent cause of around 5-8 percent death in the Indian prisons. Even brutality and torture by the police also pressurize the culprits to take up such steps causing untimely death of such person.
Spread of contagious pandemic like COVID- 19 pressurized and exhausted the prison authorities as they were unable to contain the spread of the deadly virus which spreads faster within an enclosed space. The rise in crimes and criminals overpopulation of prisons during the time of pandemic, exceeded the capacity of these prison. Even though the new criminals and correctional employees were tested on a regular basis for the presence of any infected person but still it was hard to confine the new criminals who came in with a diseases and speeded up the spread of the disease. The situation even bought the true picture of the Indian jails lacking in so basic amenities like sanitation and space in front of the whole world.
Be it a normal person or a culprit, everyone has a basic right to live in a healthy way, then being a criminal alienates someone from this right. Rights of prisoner are gaining the attention worldwide due to lack of basic human rights from which a prisoner suffers. There is a need for the state to realize the requirements of these prison brimming with criminals and allocate funds towards the same cause, as being one neither doesn’t make them lose their citizenship nor is the state freed from its duty to provide its citizens with certain basic amenities.
- 1989 AIR 2039
- 1998 CriLJ 1347
- CRL.A.600 OF 2000
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