UPSC Mains 2019: Supreme Court constitutes committee to look into jail reforms

jail reforms


Topic: Supreme Court constitutes committee to look into jail reforms

Topic in Syllabus: Indian Judiciary

jail Reform


The Supreme Court recently constituted a three-member committee, headed by its former judge Justice Amitava Roy, to look into jail reforms across the country and suggest measures to deal with them.


More about news:

  • A Bench of Justices Madan B. Lokur, S. Abdul Nazeer and Deepak Gupta appointed the Inspector General of Police, Bureau of Police Research and Development, and the Director General (Prisons) Tihar Jail as the panel’s members.
  • The judgment came on a letter from former Chief Justice of India R.C. Lahoti highlighting the overcrowding in prisons, unnatural deaths of prisoners, gross inadequacy of staff and the lack of trained staff.
  • The Amitava Roy Committee need not confine itself to these four issues but can comprehensively examine and respond to the dire necessity of reforms in prisons.
  • Issuing a slew of directions, the Bench has directed the committee to examine the extent of overcrowding in prisons and correctional homes and recommend remedial measures, including an examination of the functioning of Under Trial Review Committees, availability of legal aid and advice, grant of remission, parole and furlough.
  • The panel would also probe the reasons for violence in prisons and correctional homes and recommend measures to prevent unnatural deaths and assess the availability of medical facilities in prisons and correctional homes and make recommendations.
  • It would assess the availability and inadequacy of staff in prisons and correctional homes, suggest training and educational modules for the staff and assess the feasibility of establishing open prisons.
  • The committee has been asked to recommend steps for the psycho-social well-being of minor children of women prisoners, including their education and health.
  • Further to examine and recommend measures for the health, education, development of skills, rehabilitation and social reintegration of children in observation homes, places of safety and special homes established under the provisions of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015.
  • The court asked the committee to complete the collection of data and information and make submit it in a year.


History of Prisons in India:

  • A well-organized system of prisons is known to have existed in India from the earliest time. It was a common practice to keep the prisoners in solitary confinement so as to afford them an opportunity of self-introspection.
  • The object of punishment during Hindu and Mughal period in India was to deter offenders from repeating crime. The recognised modes of punishment were death sentence, hanging, whipping, flogging, branding or starving to death. The prisoners were ill-treated, tortured and subjected to most inhuman treatment. They were kept under strict control and supervision. Thus prisons were places of terror and torture and prison authorities were expected to be tough and rigorous in implementing sentences.
  • The British colonial rule in India marked the beginning of penal reforms in this country. The British prison authorities made strenuous efforts to improve the condition of Indian prisons and prisoners. They introduced radical changes in the then existing prison system keeping in view the sentiments of the indigenous people.
  • Conditions of prisoners were harsher than animals in India and prisoners were treated with hatred. There was no uniform civil code to give punishment. The meaning of the punishment itself was to crush the prisoner. Jailors were cruel persons. But in 1835, some thought of reformation arose.
  • The second Jail Enquiry Committee in 1862 expressed concern for the insanitary conditions of Indian Prisoners which resulted into death of several prisoners due to illness and disease. It emphasized the need for proper food and clothing for the prison inmates and medical treatment of ailing prisoners.
  • Prisoners Act was enacted to bring uniformity in the working of the prisoners in India. The Act provided for classification of prisoners and the sentences of whipping was abolished.


Why prison Reform is needed?

  • Imprisonment affects the prisoner and also his family living in poverty. When a income generating member of the family is imprisoned the whole family has to suffer and adjust to the loss of income. The family has to suffer financial loss because they have to engage a lawyer, arrange food for the prisoner, transport to prison to visit the prison etc.
  • Prisons have very serious health implications. There are some prisoners who are suffering from various diseases before entering to the prison or they get effected after coming in the prison.
  • Imprisonment disrupts relationships and weakens social cohesion, since the maintenance of such cohesion is based on long-term relationships.
  • The size of the pre-trial prisoners is higher than that of the convicted prisoner. Pre-trial detention period is the most open period for the abuse of criminal justice process. Although pre-trial detainees should be presumed innocent until found guilty by a court of law, and treated as such, conditions in pre-trial detention are often much worse than those of prisons for convicted prisoners
  • Overcrowded Prison: Prisons in India are overcrowded. As a result of this there is no separation of offenders of serious offences and minor offences. Hence hardened criminals may spread their influence over minor criminals.
  • In India, 71 percent of the prison population is either illiterate or educated below high school. Majority of these people remain in prison pending trial or conviction. Most recent statistics reveal that over 67 percent of the prisoners are undertrials and may continue to be held in overcrowded prisons for years. This makes them one of the weakest sections of society.
  • Poor public defense and under-utilization of non-custodial measures add to the growing malaise of unnecessary or prolonged detention.
  • Lack of inspections and sketchy implementation of oversight mechanisms turn prisons into frightening wrecks with shoddy living conditions. This rot in the criminal justice system impacts the psychological condition of a prisoner making the person more vulnerable than before to criminal propensities. The prisoner gets out of jail ruined and not reformed. The Supreme Court, in its landmark decision in Ramamurthy v. State of Karnataka has identified nine major problems which need immediate attention for implementing prison reforms.


The present prison system is affected with major problems of

  • Overcrowding
  • Delay in trial
  • Torture and ill treatment
  • Neglect of health and hygiene
  • Insufficient food and inadequate clothing
  • Prison vices
  • Deficiency in communication
  • Streamlining of jail visits and
  • Management of open air prisons.


How Prison reform in India differ from West?

In India, prison reforms did not emerge out of the social movement but were necessarily an outcome of the worst conditions of treatment faced by the political sufferers in prisons during the period of their imprisonment. They repeatedly launched protests with the prison authorities and made all possible efforts to see that the rigours of prison life are mitigated and prisoners are humanly treated.


Steps taken to Reform Prison:

The modern prison system in India was originated by TB Macaulay in 1835. A committee namely Prison Discipline Committee, 1836. The contemporary Prison administration in India is thus a legacy of British rule. It is based on the notion that the best criminal code can be of little use to a community unless there is good machinery for the infliction of punishments.

  • Mulla Committee: (All India Committee on Jail Reforms 1980-83)- The basic objective of the Committee was to review the laws, rules and regulations keeping in view the overall objective of protecting society and rehabilitating offenders. It recommended a total ban on the heinous practice of clubbing together juvenile offenders with hardened criminals in prisons.
  • The committee suggested setting up of a National Prison Commission as a continuing body to bring about modernisation of prisons in India.
  • To constitute an All India Service called the Indian Prisons and Correctional Service for the recruitment of Prison Officials.
  • After-care, rehabilitation and probation should constitute an integral part of prison service.
  • The conditions of prison should be improved by making adequate arrangements for food, clothing, sanitation and ventilation etc.
  • Lodging of undertrial in jails should be reduced to bare minimum and they should be kept separate from the convicted prisoners.
  • The Government should make an endeavour to provide adequate resources and funds for prison reforms.
  • Krishna Iyer Committee: It was constituted in 1987 for women prisoners. It has recommended induction of more women in the police force in view of their special role in tackling women and child offenders.


What should be done?

  • The women prisoners should be treated more generously and allowed to meet their children frequently.
  • The prisoners belonging to peasant class should be afforded an opportunity to go to their fields during harvesting season on temporary ‘ticket on leave’ so that they can look after their agriculture.
  • 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. It is gratifying to note that in recent decades the Supreme Court has shown deep concern for prisoners right to justice and fair treatment and requires prison officials to initiate measures so that prisoners basic right are not violated and they are not subjected to harassment and inhuman conditions of living.
  • There is dire need to bring about a change in the public attitude towards the prison institutions and their management. This is possible through an intensive publicity programmes using the media of press, platform and propaganda will.
  • Last but not the least, the existing Prison Act, 1894 which is more than a century old, needs to be thoroughly revised and even re-stated in view of the changed socioeconomic and political conditions of India over the years. Many of the provisions of this Act have become obsolete and redundant.

Sample Question:

Q) Examine why is it important to promote prison reforms.  Is Open Prisons a viable solution to India’s Overcrowded Prisons?