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  • 24 July, 2021

  • 15 Min Read

Prison Reforms

Prison Reforms

  • Article 14, 19, 20, 21 and 22 deal with the rights of prisoners.
  • Art 39 (a) Fair justice also deals with Prisons.
  • Prisons is a State subject.
  • Administration and management of prisons is the responsibility of respective State Governments. However, the Ministry of Home Affairs provides regular guidance and advice to States and UTs on various issues concerning prisons and prison inmates.

Statistics on Prisons

  • Bench of Justices U.U.Lalit and K.M. Joseph, in a judgment, highlighted the “alarming” statistics of prisons. Justice Joseph said the occupancy rate in prisons had climbed to 118.5% in 2019.
  • The court referred to the National Crime Records Bureau’s figures of 2019 to show that 18,86,092 inmates were admitted in jails. The number of under trial prisoners in 2019 was 3,30,487,which, in fact, constituted 69.05% of the total number of prisoners.
  • Secondly, a very large sum (Rs. 6818.1 crore)was the budget for prisons.
  • The “tremendous” overcrowding of prisons and the huge budget were both “relevant in the context of the possibilities that house arrest offers”, the court noted. It concluded that “as regards post conviction cases,we would leave it open tothe legislature to ponder over its employment. We have indicated the problems of overcrowding of prisons and the cost to the State in maintaining prisons”.

Justice Amitav Roy Panel of SC recommends several Prison reforms

  • Overcrowding is the common bane in understaffed prisons. Both the prisoner and his guard suffer human rights violation equally.
  • Every new prisoner should be allowed a free phone call a day to his family to see him through his first weeks in jail.
  • Physical production is less, because of unavailability of police guards for escort and transportation, trial through video call is a solution.
  • There should be atleast 1 lawyer every 30 prisoners.
  • Modern cooking facilities, canteens to buy essential items etc. are other recommendations.

SC recommendations on Prison reforms

  • The court asked Undertrial Review Committees in all districts to meet every quarter.
  • Treat prisoners with dignity. The Supreme Court has been saying this since (the case of) Sunil Batra (1980).
  • In 2014, a Supreme Court bench ordered strict implementation of the provision of the Criminal Procedure Code which prescribes release of undertrials who have served half their sentence.
  • For the release of undertrials, the court asked Undertrial Review Committees in all districts to meet every quarter.
  • The court went on to state that no undertrial should languish in jail for want of bail money. According to the order, 3,470 prisoners had not been released because they failed to furnish bail bonds.
  • In a step to extend reforms to juvenile homes, the court advised that a document similar to the Model Prison Manual be prepared for juvenile observation homes and safety homes.
  • It called for an annual review of the implementation of the Model Prison Manual and said that it should not be reduced to just another document.
  • The Model Prison Manual is a document prepared by the home ministry dealing with various incidental issues including custodial management, medical care, education of prisoners, vocational training and skill development programmes, legal aid, welfare of prisoners, after-care and rehabilitation, and prison computerization.
  • The court, in its directions, also touched upon the need to provide quality legal aid to prisoners by empanelling “competent lawyers". The court said that it should be ensured that “legal aid for the poor does not become poor legal aid".
  • It also said that police personnel in charge of prisons should ensure effective utilisation of funds allocated to them for improving living conditions of prisoners.
  • Pushing for computerization, the court directed that a management information system be set in place in all central and district jails so that there is better handling of prisons and prisoners.

Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D)

  • Govt established BPR&D under Ministry of Home Affairs in 1970s.
  • It replaced Police research and Advisory Council with the primary objective of modernization of police force.
  • Primary objective is modernization of police force.
  • In 1995, it was entrusted with the issues relating to Correctional Administration Work (welfare of convicts/ undertrials, rehabilitation after release of prisoners). Hence it has to ensure implementation of prison reforms as well.
  • Govt created National Police Mission under the administrative control of BPR&D to transform police forces in the country.

‘Gatekeeper Model’ mooted by NIMHANS to prevent suicides in prisons

  • In a bid to prevent suicides triggered by mental health issues in prisons across the country, the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS), Bengaluru, has recommended the “Gatekeeper Model” where selected inmates, trained to identify prisoners at risk of suicide, would refer them to treatment or supportive services.
  • Acting on the request of the Ministry of Home Affairs, NIMHANS, an Institute of National Importance, issued a set of guidelines on the management of mental health issues of the prisoners and prison staff. Referring to the Bangalore Prison Mental Health Study, the advisory pointed to the prevalence of mental illness and substance use disorder in about 80% of the prison population.
  • NIMHANS experts said prisoners with mental disorders had to be regularly assessed for severity of suicidal risk and also put on regular and supervised medication. To address the prisoner’s mental health needs, the correctional facility should have links to community-based initiatives like the District Mental Health Programme.

“Buddy system”

  • The advisory said the concept of a ‘Buddy System’ — social support through trained prisoners called “buddies” or “listeners” — was found to have a good impact on the well-being of suicidal prisoners. Periodic telephone conversations with friends and family would also foster support, it said.
  • These initiatives were part of several other recommendations made by NIMHANS to effectively manage mental health issues among prisoners and staff.
  • Communicating the guidelines to all States, the MHA said the COVID-19 virus had posed unique challenges to the world and prisons and correctional facilities were also affected by the pandemic.
  • Though appropriate measures were taken by the authorities to check the spread of the virus in prisons, there was a need to continue monitoring the situation rigorously without letting the guard down and provide care to inmates and prison staff.
  • Emphasising on the mental health of prisoners, the Ministry said incarcerated people could face many vulnerabilities during the pandemic, which might impact their mental wellbeing. The prison staff was also working under tremendous pressure and faced challenges in performing their duty while safeguarding themselves from contracting the infection.
  • In Tamil Nadu, Director-General of Police, Prison & Correctional Services, Sunil Kumar Singh said 58 mobile phones were purchased for prisoners to make video calls to their family members in lieu of the physical interviews that were temporarily suspended in view of the pandemic.
  • (Assistance for overcoming suicidal thoughts is available on the helpline number 104.)

Click here to read comprehensive analysis on Prison reforms.

Source: TH

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