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2022 DEC 7

Mains   > Social justice   >   Human Resources   >   Criminal justice system


  • At the National Law Day celebrations organised by the Supreme Court, President Draupadi Murmu called to the government and the judiciary to address the issue of overcrowding of prisons and undertrials languishing in jail.


  • Custody, Care and Treatment are the three main functions of a modern prisons. India’s justice system also adopts the same objectives for its prisons. 
  • ‘Prisons’ is a State subject in the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution of India.
  • The management and administration of Prisons is governed by the Prisons Act, 1894 and the Prison Manuals of the respective State Governments.
  • In India there are three levels of Prison: Sub jails, district jails and central jails. There are also some other types of jail such as women jails, Borstal school, open jails, and special jails.
  • According to National Crime Records Bureau’s 2021 report, there are 1319 prisons in India which hold 5,54,034 prisoners.


  • Overcrowding:
    • NCRB data shows an occupancy rate of 130.2% in 2021. The highest occupancy rate was in District Jails (155.4%) followed by Central Jails (123.7%) and Sub Jails (102.9%).
  • Prolonged detention of undertrials:
    • According to NCRB report, Among the 5,54,034 inmates across India’s prisons, 77.1% were under-trials. The COVID-19 pandemic further decelerated judicial processes.
    • A majority of the undertrials are from marginalised castes. In the 17 years to 2019, nearly two in three (64%) on average were from the Schedules Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes.
  • Torture and other human rights violations:
    • Although the Indian law considers extra judicial confession as inadmissible, the police torturing of the accused and custodial deaths are still a common story in India.
  • Lack of adequate medical care:
    • Poor sanitation facilities and lack of space results in frequent disease outbreaks in prisons. It also results into mental and physical torture of inmates.
  • Condition of female prisoners:
    • There are only 31 women jails in India and they are confined to 15 States/UTs. Women are often subjected to torture and sexual abuse within the prisons.
  • Non separation of prisoners:
    • According to the prison guidelines, undertrials must be kept separated from convicts, female from male, juvenile from adults’ offenders, civil offenders from criminal offenders. But little have been achieved in this regard.
  • Development of thought:
    • The earlier penological approach held imprisonment to be the only way to curb crime. But the modern approach uses new forms of sentencing whereby the needs of the community are balanced with the best interest of the accused.
    • Hence, there is need to use the alternatives to imprisonment such as warning, probation, suspension of sentence, fine and release on personal bond.
  • Shortage of manpower:
    • According to the India Justice report 2020, the average prison staff vacancy is over 30% over the last three years.
    • With respect to the share of women staff in prisons, no state/UT was close to the 33% benchmark for diversity as suggested.
  • Availability of financial resources:
    • The maintenance of prison establishment is an expensive affair and governments have been reluctant to allocate requested funds for prisons.
    • This has led to inadequate avenues for social reintegration programmes, which defeats the purpose of reformative justice.


India has been working to reform its prisons since independence. Various efforts have been setup who have highlighted the need to humanization of conditions of prisons:

  • In 1951, the Government invited United Nations experts led by Dr. W. C. Reckless to make recommendations on prison reforms.
    • The Committee suggested for transforming jails into reformation centres. 
    • On the basis of the Committee’s recommendations, the Government in 1957 formulated model prison manual.
    • The manual acts as guiding principle for jail administration in India till now.
  • The Government of India set up Mulla Committee in 1980 for prison reforms. It submitted its report in 1983 and gave suggestions like:
    • Improvement in the conditions of jails by providing proper food, clothing, sanitation.
    • Training of jail officials and their organisation in different cadres and establishment of All India Service called Indian Prisons and Correctional Service.
    • The under-trail prisoners should be reduced to bare minimum and kept separately from convicts.
    • The Government shall endeavour for allocation of adequate financial resources to jails.
  • Juvenile Justice Act, 1986:
    • In 1986, a Juvenile Justice Act was enacted and observation homes, special homes, and juvenile homes were constituted.
  • Hussainara Khatoon vs. State of Bihar case:
    • In this case, the court declared that right to speedy trial is implicit in Article 21 and thus constitutes a fundamental right of every person, even those accused of a crime.
  • The Government had also set up Krishna Iyer Committee in 1987 to study the conditions of women in jails.
    • The Committee recommended for recruitment of more women staff in jails to handle women and child offenders.


  • The Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
    • The General Assembly of the United Nations started a movement in the form of the Universal Declaration of human rights in the year 1948. It lays down principles of administration of justice.
  • The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR):
    • The ICCPR remains the core international treaty on the protection of the rights of prisoners. India ratified the Covenant in 1979 and is bound to incorporate its provisions into domestic law and state practice.
  • Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment:
    • It calls for the state to take steps for effective judicial, legislative and administrative methods to prevent torture. However, India signed the convention in 1997 but is yet to ratify it.


  • National Policy on prison:
    • Since prison is a state subject, Central Government should frame a National Policy on prison and encourage states to adopt them.
    • The center should also form a National Commission on prisons to look into matters more seriously.
  • Update legislations:
    • The existing Prison Act, 1894 which is more than a century old, needs to be thoroughly revised to align with the present socioeconomic and political conditions of India. The value of probation, open prisons, parole and home leave as reformatory measures need to be established.
    • To supplement these efforts, reforms in policing, investigation and judicial system are also essential. 
  • Separate law for Bail:
  • Speedy trials & limited confinement:
    • The overcrowding in jails can be tackled by reducing the under trials to bare minimum. The speedy trail of the under trails is necessary.
    • The offender should be confined to the prison for only a minimum period which is absolutely necessary for their custody. This would also reduce undue burden on prison expenditure.
  • Open Jails:
    • They can address the problem of overcrowding as well as reformation and rehabilitation of prisoners. Eg: Rajasthan’s open prison (Explained below)
  • Human resource development:
    • Prisoners must be given educational and vocational training. Also, yoga and meditation should be encouraged to promote mental wellbeing of prisoners.
    • Prison officials and police should be trained to prevent tortures and mishandling of prisoners.
  • Compensation for negligence:
    • The prison legislation should make provision for remedy of compensation to prisoner who are wrongfully detained or suffer injuries to callous or negligent acts of the prison personnel.
  • Change public attitude:
    • There is dire need to bring about a change in the public attitude towards the prison institutions and their management. This is possible through intensive publicity programme.


1. United Kingdom’s Prison and Probation Ombudsman:

A specialized inspection of prisons takes place every year in the UK. A routine Government follow-up takes place every year. This makes for greater accountability and increased system transparency.

2. Singapore’ Yellow Ribbon Project:

The goal of the yellow ribbon project is to reintegrate and rehabilitate prisoners. It involves prisoners voluntarily giving up their gang associations (like having tattoos removed), creating awareness among the people on the need to give ex-offenders a second chance and inspiring community action to support the rehabilitation and reintegration of ex-offenders.

3. Rajasthan’s open prison:

At Sanganer prison in Jaipur, inmates are given shelter, but no money and no food. They must go to work and earn their living beyond the prison gates. To get to Sanganer, inmates have to have served at least two-thirds of their sentences in closed prisons. The inmates run their small business like a tea stall and return to jail in the evening. They are allowed to live with their families in the jail. Thus, the open jails provide for social assimilation and financial independence to the prisoners before their sentence is completed.


Q. Revamping India’s prison system is essential to realize the true objective of reformative punishment. Discuss?