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Social Justice

Prison Reforms

  • 23 Jan 2023
  • 7 min read

For Prelims: 57th All-India Conference of Director Generals/ Inspector Generals of Police, National Data Governance Framework, Criminal Justice System, National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB)-Prison Statistics India, Custodial rapes, Amitava Roy (retd.) Committee.

For Mains: Status of Prison Administration in India, Issues Related to Prison in India.

Why in News?

Recently, the Prime Minister suggested prison reforms to improve jail management and recommended repealing obsolete criminal laws, at the 57th All-India Conference of Director Generals/ Inspector Generals of Police, organised by the Intelligence Bureau (IB).

What are the Key Highlights of the Prime Minister’s Address?

  • He emphasised on the importance of National Data Governance Framework for the smoothing of data exchange, across agencies.
    • Also, making the police forces more sensitive and training them in emerging technologies.
  • He talked about leveraging technological solutions like biometrics etc., and the need to further strengthen traditional policing mechanisms like foot patrols.
  • He also emphasised on enhanced cooperation between the State Police and Central Agencies to leverage capabilities and share best practices replicating the model of the DGsP/IGsP Conference at the State/district levels, for discussing emerging challenges and evolving best practices among their teams.

What is the Status of Prison Administration in India?

  • About:
    • Prison administration is an important component of the criminal justice system. There is a paradigm shift in social viewpoint towards prisoners in the last century.
      • Earlier system of prison with a punitive attitude where inmates were forcibly confined and deprived a variety of freedom as a form of punishment has changed with a change in social perception towards prison and prisoners.
    • It is now treated as a correction or improvement facility which itself indicates that there is more emphasis on reformation of prisoners than to punish them.
  • Structure of the Criminal Justice System in India:
    • The Indian Criminal Justice System is composed of government agencies that enforce the law, adjudicate crimes, and correct criminal behaviour.
    • It has four subsystems:
      • Legislature (Parliament)
      • Enforcement (Police)
      • Adjudication (Courts)
      • Corrections (Prisons, Community Facilities)
  • Issues Related to Prison in India:
    • Pendency of Cases: As per the records of 2022, over 4.7 crore cases are pending in Indian courts across different levels of the judiciary.
    • Colonial Nature and Obsolete Laws: Both substantive and procedural aspects of the Indian criminal justice system were designed with the purpose of ruling the nation in British colonial times.
      • In light of this, the relevance of these 19th century laws is debatable in the 21st century.
    • Inhumane Behaviour Behind Bars: Over the years, critics have repeatedly complained about the indifferent and even inhuman behaviour of prison staff.
    • Overcrowding: Many prisons in India are overcrowded, with facilities designed to hold a certain number of inmates being filled well beyond capacity.
      • For example, in 2020 it was reported that the Tihar Jail in Delhi, which has a capacity of around 7,000 inmates, held more than 15,000 prisoners.
    • Inadequate Staff: Many prisons in India are understaffed, which can lead to poor conditions and a lack of security.
      • For example, in 2020 it was reported that the Puzhal Central Prison in Chennai, Tamil Nadu had only one guard for every 100 prisoners.
      • Also, as per the Prison Act, 1894 and Prisoner Act, 1900, there should be a welfare officer and a law officer in each jail but recruitment of these officers remains pending.

Way Forward

  • Making Prisons Correctional Institutions: The ideal policy prescription of making prisons into places of rehabilitation and “correctional institutions” will only be achieved when the issues of unrealistically low budgetary allocation, high workloads and the unmindfulness of the police regarding procedural safeguards are addressed.
  • Recommendation for Prison Reforms: The Supreme Court appointed Justice Amitava Roy (retd.) Committee which gave the following recommendations to address the overcrowding of prisons:
    • Speedy trial remains one of the best ways to remedy the unwarranted phenomenon of overcrowding.
    • There should be at least one lawyer for every 30 prisoners, which is not the case at present.
    • Special fast-track courts should be set up to deal exclusively with petty offences which have been pending for more than five years.
    • The concept of plea bargaining, in which the accused admits guilt for a lesser sentence, should be promoted.
  • Improving Prison Management: This includes providing proper training and resources to prison staff, as well as implementing effective systems for monitoring and accountability.
    • This also includes providing basic amenities such as clean drinking water, sanitation, and medical facilities to inmates.

UPSC Civil Services Examination, Previous Year Question (PYQ)

Q.1 Instances of the President’s delay in commuting death sentences has come under public debate as denial of justice. Should there be a time specified for the President to accept/reject such petitions? Analyse. (2014)

Q.2 National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in India can be most effective when its tasks are adequately supported by other mechanisms that ensure the accountability of a government. In light of above observation assess the role of NHRC as an effective complement to the judiciary and other institutions in promoting and protecting human rights standards. (2014)

Source: TH

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