Overcrowded Indian Prisons

News: The Supreme Court (SC) of India has ordered the interim release of eligible prisoners in view of the uncontrolled second surge in the raging Covid-19 pandemic. The Court’s order aims to decongest jails and a measure that protects the right to life and health of the prisoners.

Details:

  • SC emphasised the need to adhere to the norms it had laid down in Arnesh Kumar vs State of Bihar (2014) case. Under this case, the police were asked not to effect unnecessary arrests, especially in cases that involve jail terms less than seven years.
  • Authorities in all districts in the country to give effect to Section 436A of the Code of Criminal Procedure (Cr.P.C). Under the Section 436A of the Cr.P.C, the under trials who have completed half of the maximum prison term prescribed for the offence may be released on personal bond.
  • Suggested the legislature to consider the idea of placing convicts under house arrest to avoid overcrowding of prisons. The occupancy rate in prisons climbed to 118.5% in 2019. Moreover, a very large sum of the budget is used for the maintenance of prisons.
  • Ordered all States to take preventive steps as well as constitute high-powered committees to determine the class of prisoners who could be released on bail or parole for a specified period.

Status of Indian Prisons:

  • Indian prisons face three long-standing structural constraints:
  • Overcrowding,
  • Under staffing and under funding and
  • Violent clashes.
  • The Prison Statistics India 2016,published by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) in 2019 highlights the plight of prisoners in India. India’s under-trial population remains among the highest in the world and more than half of all under trials were detained for less than six months in 2016.
  • There is the rise in the number of people held under administrative (or ‘prevention’) detention laws in Jammu and Kashmir.
  • The number of “unnatural” deaths in prisons has doubled between 2015 and 2016, from 115 to 231.
  • There was only one mental health professional for every 21,650 prisoners in 2016, with only six States and one Union Territory having psychologists /psychiatrists.

Recommendation for Prison Reforms

  • The Supreme Court appointed Justice Amitava Roy (retd.) Committee has given the following recommendations to reform prisons.

For Overcrowding:

  • 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. Further, accused persons who are charged with petty offences and those granted bail, but who are unable to arrange surety should be released on a Personal Recognizance (PR) Bond.
  • An adjournment should not be granted in cases where witnesses are present and the concept of plea bargaining, in which the accused admits guilt for a lesser sentence, should be promoted.

For Prisoners:

  • Every new prisoner should be allowed a free phone call a day to his family members to see him through his first week in jail and providing effective legal aid to prisoners and taking steps to provide vocational skills and education to prisoners.
  • Use of video-conferencing for trial.
  • The courts may be asked to use their “discretionary powers” and award sentences like “fine and admonition” if possible, instead of sending the offenders to jails. Further, courts may be encouraged to release offenders on probation at pre-trial stage or after trial in deserving cases.