Mains Article

Prison reforms in India [Mains Article]

Prison system should not be allowed to aggravate sufferings during the process of imprisonment. There is need to reform convicts and rehabilitate them back into the society.
By IT's Mains Articles Team
September 16, 2019


  • Why it was in News?
  • Background
  • Highlights of the Prison Statistics India 2016
  • Challenges in Indian Prions
  • Rights of Prisoners
  • What is legal aid?
  • Provisions related to legal aid
  • Prison modernisation reforms
  • Suggestions
  • Conclusion

Prison reforms in India

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Why it was in News?

  • The Bureau of Police Research and Development recently organized National Conference on ‘Criminal Activities and Radicalization in Jails: Vulnerability of Inmates and Jail Staff and their Protection’.



  • In India, the foundations of the contemporary prison administration in India were laid by the Britishers during the British rule.

Prison Enquiry Committee, 1836: An office of Inspector general of prison was created whose duty was to maintain discipline among the prisoners and by this, the abuse of power by jail authorities was brought to an end. This committee also emphasized on providing the proper food and clothing to the prisoners and that medical treatment of ailing prisoners should be given top priority.

Prison Enquiry Committee, 1862: It was appointed to review the prison administration in India. This committee expressed deep concern for the unsanitary condition of Indian prisons and recommended a certain minimum space for each prisoner. It also recommended for better clothing and food regular medical checkup of the prisoners.

Period (1907-1927): During this period various Reformatories were established for the juveniles and young offenders which were modeled on the British pattern. The reason behind this was to protect the young and juvenile offenders from the hardened criminals as these adult offenders usually have sexual perplexity towards the young male offenders.

Jail Reforms Committee, 1983

It recommended for:

  • The setting up of a National Prison Commission to oversee the modernization of the prisons in India.
  • Putting a ban on clubbing together juvenile offenders with the hardened criminals in prison.
  • Enacting a comprehensive and protective legislation for the security and protective care of delinquent juveniles.
  • Segregation of mentally ill prisoners to a mental asylum.
  • Classification of prisoners should be done on some scientific and rational basis.

The Juvenile Justice Act, 1986

  • It laid down a uniform framework for juvenile justice in the country and juvenile welfare board and the juvenile court was established.

Highlights of the Prison Statistics India 2016


  • At the end of 2016, there were 4,33,000 people in prison; of them 68% were undertrials, or people who have yet to be found guilty of the crimes they are accused of.
  • There was 300% rise in the number of people held under administrative (or ‘prevention’) detention laws in Jammu and Kashmir. Administrative, or ‘preventive’, detention is used by authorities in J&K and other States to unfairly detain persons without charge or trial.
  • In 2016, out of 1,557 undertrials found eligible for release under Section 436A, only 929 were released. Prison officials are frequently unaware of this section and unwilling to apply it.
  • Section 436A of the Code of Criminal Procedure allows under trials to be released on a personal bond if they have undergone half of the maximum term of imprisonment they would have faced if convicted.
  • The number of unnatural deaths (doubled) and suicide (increased by 28%) increased in 2016.
  • There is only one mental health professional for every about 21,000 prisoners in 2016, with only six States and one Union Territory having psychologists/psychiatrists. Odisha, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, the three States with the most prisoners with mental illness, did not have a single psychologist or psychiatrist.

Criticism of Prison Statistics India 2016

  • The report did not include demographic details of religion and the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe status of prisoners, which are crucial to understanding India’s prison population.
  • It does not mention the number of prison visits by visitors which typically include district magistrates and judges, social workers and researchers. This is essential to uncover torture and other forms of ill-treatment, increase transparency and balance the power asymmetry in prisons.
  • It does not provide information on whether mentally ill prisoners were diagnosed with mental illness before entering prison, making it difficult to determine whether prison conditions worsened their plight.

Challenges in Indian Prisons

  • Overcrowding in prisons
  • Large number of under-trials
  • Inadequate prison infrastructure
  • Criminal activities and radicalization in jails
  • Safety of women prisoners and their young children
  • Harassment, torture in jails.
  • Shortage of funds and staff for proper prison administration
  • Neglect of health and Hygiene
  • Labor is extracted from them without paying proper wages
  • Lack of uniformity in the law relating to the prisons across various states

Rights of Prisoners

All India Committee on Jail Reforms, 1980-83 has suggested that there are certain rights available to the prisoners such as:

Right to Human Dignity

  • The right to the integrity of the body, immunity from use of repression and personal abuse, the right to non-deprivation of fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution of India, except in accordance with law prescribing conditions of confinement.

Right to Basic Minimum Needs

  • Every prisoner has the right to fulfillment of minimum basic needs such as proper diet, health, proper medical care facility, access to clean drinking water, clean conditions of living accommodation etc

Right to Access the Law

  • Every prisoner has right to communicate with the prison administration, Government, and judicial authorities for redressal of violation of any of prisoner’s rights and right to access to State Legal Aid Boards or similar organizations providing legal services.

Right to Meaningful and Gainful Employment

  • Every under trial prisoners volunteering to do work may be given suitable work wherever practicable. Such prisoners should be paid wages as per rules. It is a constitutional mandate under Article 23 that no person can be forced to do work as ‘beggar’.

What is legal aid?

  • Legal aid is free legal assistance to the poor and weaker sections of the society with the object to enable them to exercise the rights given to them by law.
  • The National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) has been constituted under the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 to provide free Legal Services to the weaker sections of the society and to organize Lok Adalats for amicable settlement of disputes.


Provisions related to legal aid

Rule of natural justice: It says that individuals should not penalized by decisions affecting their rights unless they have been given prior notice and a fair opportunity to answer them.

Article 14: It ensure equal justice. The guarantee of equal justice is meaningless if the poor or weak persons cannot enforce their rights.

Article 38 (1): It says that the State shall strive to promote the welfare of the people by securing and protecting as effectively as it may a social order in which justice, social, economic or political, shall inform all the institutions of the national life.

Article 39-A: It directs the State to ensure that the operation of the legal system promotes justice on a basis of equal opportunity and shall provide free legal aid to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen by reason of economic or other disabilities.

Article 21: Right to free legal aid or free legal service is an essential fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution. It forms the basis of reasonable and just liberty under Article 21.

Section 304 of the Criminal Procedure Code: It provides that where in a trial before the Court of Session, the accused is not represented by a pleader; the Court shall assign a pleader for his defence at the expense of the State. Hence, Section 304 makes it clear that the State is under an obligation to provide legal assistance to a person charged with offence triable before the Court of Session.

The Legal Services Authority Act, 1987: It has been enacted to constitute the Legal Service Authorities to provide free legal services to the weaker sections and to organise Lok Adalats to secure that the operation of the legal system promotes justice.

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR): ICCPR guarantees: Right to be tried, to defend himself; to be informed and to have legal assistance if he does not have sufficient means to pay for it.

Prison Modernisation Reforms


E-Prison Project

  • E-Prison project aims to computerize and integrate all the activities related to prison and prisoner management in the jail.
  • The E-prisons project supplements the Prisoner Information Management system (PIMS), developed by National Informatics Centre, which provides a centralized approach for recording prisoner information.
  • The PIMS records Prisoner’s Basic Details, Family Details, Biometrics (fingerprint), Photograph, Medical Details, Prisoner Case History, Prisoner Movements, Punishment details etc.

Legal Aid

  • The Ministry of Home Affairs has issued an advisory to all States and UTs informing them about the Legal aid facility available to under-trial prison inmates.
  • Model Prison Manual 2016, which has a dedicated chapter on Legal Aid, provides detailed information about the legal services available to prison inmates.
  • The National Legal Services authority had also launched a web application in 2017 to facilitate the under trial prisoners for providing them free legal services.


Capacity Building

  • There is need to ensure capacity building for legal aid movement. This requires strengthening the skills of stakeholders of legal aid; law teachers, lawyers, law students, volunteers such as aaganwadi workers to act as intermediates between rural people and legal service institutions.

Increased awareness

  • The major drawback of legal aid movement in India is the lack of legal awareness. Hence, there should be promotion of awareness regarding legal aid, not only by government, but also by society.

Media’s Role

  • There should be regular visits by the media and press to study the condition of the inmates and these reports should be published and the plight of prisoners should be highlighted by media.

Institutional Publication

  • There should be some institutional publication in every correctional system in which inmates should be allowed to express themselves freely. This would improve their ability to express themselves and the drawback in the jail administration would also be brought forth to the light.

Regular transfer of Jail Officials

  • There should be a regular transfer of the authorities of a jail so that these official do not get involved in corrupt and torturing nefarious activities.

Fine Cases

  • In the case of default in paying fine, there should be a provision that the person who is not able to pay fine should be allowed to pay it in installments.

Effective Legal Service

  • Effective Legal Service should be provided to the prisoners which will in turn help in decongestion of the jails and for this there should be an increase in remuneration of the counsel of legal aid.
  • Also, there should be the appointment of duty counsel in every prison to guide the prisoners in the legal matters in the same line as a medical officer in every jail. Good attractive salary should be offered to such lawyers so as to attract good legal acumen.

Pregnant Woman Inmates

  • There should be special care for the pregnant woman inmates in the correctional systems. There should be a facility of regular health check up of such inmates. Lady Doctor should be appointed by the government as permanent staff in the prisons.

Judicial Surveillance

  • Every District judge should be given the responsibility of visiting the prison in his area of jurisdiction. It will infuse confidence among the inmates as they would be able to complaint against the jail authorities and ventilate their grievances.


  • Prison administration in India, since independence, has been a matter of intense debate on various forums. Even the Supreme Court of India has expressed its concern over the conditions of prisons.
  • India’s under-trial population remains among the highest in the world. This suggests that the high proportion of undertrials in the overall prison population may be the result of unnecessary arrests and ineffective legal aid during remand hearings.
  • Therefore, there is a need to ensure safety and security of the prisoners, improve the condition of living of prisoners and to convert the prison as a centre of reformation.


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