This article on the rights of prisoners in India is written by Samhitha Reddy.
Human Rights are the inalienable rights to which every human being is entitled to as a part of the human society. It enables human beings to live a dignified and respectful life and provides equal rights, freedoms and justice to all.
A prisoner is a person who is serving time in prison for the crimes he or she has committed. His rights are curtailed as a punishment for breaking the law. A prisoner is also a human being and hence is entitled to some basic rights to live a modest and reasonably decent life.
Although going to prison involves restriction of ones rights, a prisoner, irrespective of the crime he or she has committed, deserves certain basic rights as a part of the human fraternity. Over the years, ‘rights of prisoners’ have developed considerably and are now being taken more seriously. From being treated in a barbaric manner with minimum to no rights, today, there are organisations working tirelessly for the recognition of rights of prisoners and even the governments of different countries have come up with laws to protect these rights. Prisoners must be allowed to live with dignity and must be granted certain basic rights such as protection from cruel and harsh punishments, torture, sexual harassment and mental and medical health care.
Rights of Prisoners, in India has gained importance in the last few decades as the plight of the prisoners in jail has come to light and the deplorable conditions that the prisoners live in, in the prisons has come to the notice of the Government, the Judiciary and the people. The Supreme Court of India and the State High Courts have also commented on the pitiable state of prisoners in their judgments.
“In a number of judgments on various aspects of prison administration, the Supreme Court of India has laid down three broad principles:
(i) A person in prison does not become a non-person.
(ii) A person in prison is entitled to all human rights within the limitations of imprisonment.
(iii) There is no justification in aggravating the suffering already inherent in the process of incarceration.”
The Supreme Court of India has ruled that the compulsion to live in a prison entails by its own force the deprivation of certain rights, like the right to move freely or to practice a profession of one’s choice, a prisoner is otherwise entitled to the basic freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution.
It is also essential for one to understand that a convicted person goes to prison as punishment and not for punishment. Hence, the person cannot be inflicted with more punishment and the orders of the court have to be followed.
But this is not usually the case. Rights of prisoners are sometimes overlooked or not bestowed. This is due to the deep rooted belief among people that the prisoners do not deserve any rights as they have committed crimes and wronged the society. What these people do not realize is that not only is this morally wrong as prisoners are also human beings, it is also legally incorrect to ignore or omit their rights.
There are national and international laws governing and ensuring rights of prisoners:
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, states that: : “No one shall be subject to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of punishment”. Also, the United Nations Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states: “All persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person” These internationally accepted tenets also apply to the prisoners of India as India is a part of the United Nations.
There are numerous rights to which the prisoners are entitled to residing in prisons. These rights are mentioned in various international statutes like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Acts such as the Prison Act, 1894 and Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, reports of various committees like the All India Committee on Jail Reforms, 1980-83 and judgements of the Supreme Court of India and State High Courts which are used as precedents in case any issues regarding the interpretation of laws and violation of rights occurs.
Right to Basic and Minimum Needs
Right to Basic and Minimum Needs connotes “Right to fulfillment of basic minimum needs such as adequate diet, adequate potable water for drinking, bathing and cleaning purposes; recreation facilities; health and medical care and treatment, access to clean and hygienic conditions of living accommodation, sanitation and personal hygiene, adequate clothing, bedding and other equipment; and recreation.”
Many sub-rights fall under the ambit of this right.
Right to adequate diet and potable drinking water is a very vital part of this right. It is highly necessary for the prisoners to receive the optimum amount of food, calories and nutrients. “An average man requires approximately 2,000 to 2,400 calories a day. A person who does heavy work requires not less than 2,800 calories per day. An average woman having a body weight of 45 kg would require about 2,400 calories, partly because her weight is lesser and partly because she is expected to do less heavy work than a male prisoner doing labour work. Pregnant and nursing women need about 3100 calories every day.” The nutrient necessary and the optimum amounts of each have also been specified.
|1.||Protein||1g. per kg. of body
|Pulses, rice, wheat, milk, fish
meat, eggs, etc.
|2.||Fat||50 g.||Oils, butter, ghee, milk, eggs,
|3.||Carbohydrate||300 g.||Cereals, sugar, jaggery, milk,
root vegetables such as
|0.65 g. for adult, 1
g. for child
|Milk, milk products, eggs,
green, vegetables, unhusked
cereals and whole gram
|b. Iron||12.15 mg.||Vegetables, fruits, fish and
a. Vitamin A
|3,000 to 4,000 I.U.||Leafy vegetables, milk, fish,
liver oils, yellow vegetables,
eggs, carrot and yellow sweet
|b. Vitamin C||50 mg.||Tamarind, amla, guava, all
citrus fruits, eggs, lime,
orange etc., and sprouted
pulses, leafy vegetables
|c. Vitamin D||400 I.U.||Fish, liver oils, milk|
|d. Vitamin group
|1to 2 mg.||Under milled cereals and
pulse, parboiled rice, whole
|ii. Riboflavin||1.8 to 3.0 mg||Leafy vegetables, eggs, fish,
milk and milk products
|iii. Nicotinic acid||10 to 15 mg.||Under milled cereals, pulses
and parboiled rice
Just like all other human beings, prisoners also not only deserve to have three meals a day and clean, potable drinking water, it is imperative that they do so, to keep fit and healthy. Some prisoners do arduous work in prisons like agriculture and other industrial work with raw material and technical equipment. This requires a lot of energy and therefore the prisoners need to be well-fed.
“Every prisoner shall have three meals a day according to the scales prescribed. These shall be:
(i) A light meal in the morning before the hour of work;
(ii) A midday meal; and
(iii) An evening meal before prisoners are locked up for the night.”
The prisoners must also be provided with apt clothing, footwear and bedding as per the climatic conditions of the surroundings.
It is their right to receive proper accommodation. It is necessary for the prisoners to live in a dignified manner with a reasonable amount of space for each person. But this is not the case in many Indian prisons.
Overcrowding is a very pressing issue in India today. Most prisons in the country are overcrowded. Overcrowding occurs when the occupancy rate is greater than the authorized capacity, that is, number of prisoners present in a particular jail is more than the full strength of prisoners that the said jail is allowed to house.
Capacity of Jails, Inmate Population and Occupancy Rate at the end of 2014-
|Sl. No.||State/UT||Available Capacity||Inmate Population||Occupancy Rate
|10||Jammu & Kashmir||2840||171||3011||2202||82||2284||77.5||48||75.9|
|30||A & N Islands||1209||40||1249||764||5||769||63.2||12.5||61.6|
|32||D & N Haveli||50||10||60||198||1||199||396||10||331.7|
|33||Daman & Diu||120||40||160||78||1||79||65||2.5||49.4|
From the above bar graph and table, it can be seen that the number of prisoners in the prisons exceeds the number of prisoners the prisons are actually allowed to hold. This is a clear violation of the rights of prisoners as it is a prisoner’s basic right to have proper accommodation but in most jails, that there are so many prisoners that this right is not realised.
The Prison Statistics India 2014 report brings out that there are 1,84,386 inmates lodged in central prisons of India against the authorized capacity of 1,52,312 inmates, showing an occupancy rate of 121.1%. In all types of jails taken together, there were 4,18,536 inmates of whom 2,82,879 were under-trials, constituting 67.6% of total inmates. Prison reforms, thus, need to be accelerated for creating congenial and reformative environment for the inmates.
Overcrowding leads to poor prison administration as there is a lack of facilities such as clothing, food, health care and poor living conditions due to the lack of space in the prison. This also leads to lack of proper hygiene and sanitation. It is very unhealthy to allow the prisoners to live in such terrible and unacceptable conditions. Such conditions are also the cause for various diseases.
Even during times of outbreaks of epidemics in prisons, the required medical attention cannot be given to each individual prisoner as there are too many prisoners and not enough medical staff and resources to take care of the needs of all the prisoners. The condition of the prisoners’ hence becomes deplorable.
In prison, prisoners are taught various skills such as carpentry, painting, binding, and typing and in certain jails even agriculture so as to help the prisoners obtain a means to earn his daily bread after release. But due to overcrowding and the acute need of space in most prisons in India, the quality of these skills is being compromised. Most jails lack the required funds to maintain so many prisoners.
Health care and mental and medical facilities must be available to all prisoners without any discrimination. It is their right to receive medical attentions and check-ups on a periodic basis. The prisoner has to be fully examined on admission into the jail and has to be periodically examined after. In case of any medical ailment, steps have to be taken to allow the prisoner to live in the premises in a dignified manner.
Due to overcrowding or negligence of the prison staff, the prisoners live in highly unhygienic conditions which lead to them contracting various diseases. With open toilets in certain prisons, prisoners are deprived of their basic right to privacy and dignity as a human being. Other prisons also face water shortage. When ill, prisoners are neglected and due medical examination and care by competent doctors is not provided.
If and when an epidemic breaks out, the ratio of number of doctors to the number of prisoners is highly skewed and many prisoners are neglected due to the shortage of the skilled personnel.
Besides suffering from physical ailments, the prisoner also undergoes considerable stress and trauma during his stay in prison. Imprisonment is often accompanied with depression and a feeling of isolation and neglect.
The medical officers of the prisons must not only oversee the welfare of the prisoners but also the overall hygiene of the prisoners. Inspections must be held periodically in order to monitor the conditions of the prisons and its prisoners.
“The Chief Medical Officer and the prison medical staff must watch over all matters affecting health, such as:
- Unsuitable, worn out or dirty clothing
- Neglect of personal cleanliness
- Undue exposure to weather
- Unpunctuality of meals
- Neglect to air-dry or clean clothes and bedding
- Unsuitable tasks.”
Aged Prisoners, drug addict and any other prisoner with any kind of disability must all be given special attention as per the requirements.
Special Needs of Aged Prisoners: The Chief Medical Officer shall ensure that the medical needs of aged prisoners in terms of ophthalmological care, dental care, physiotherapy, and clinical testing for diabetics are regularly attended to.
Treatment of Drug Addicts: The Chief Medical Officer shall organize de-addiction programmes for such prisoners who are known to be drug-addicts. He shall also organize training in Transcendental Meditation and Yoga for them.
As a part of the above mentioned right, the prisoners are entitled to live in a clean, hygienic atmosphere with proper sanitation. They must be given prison clothes and slippers along with adequate bedding as per the weather of the surrounding areas so as to stay warm and in good health.
Prisoners are after all but human beings just like everyone else. They deserve certain basic rights to live a decent and dignified life within the limits of the rules and regulations of the prisons.
Conditions of prisoners in many jails in the country are very deplorable. They do not get proper food and water, there is no sanitation and worst of all, they are even tortured and killed in custody. Although awareness is now beginning to spread regarding this sensitive issue, most people are unaware of these heart-wrenching circumstances that the prisoners live in today.
Also, spreading awareness regarding these topics is a must. The prisoners need to be aware of their rights so that they can exercise them. Many prisoners in today’s jails are not aware of most of their rights and hence are suffering, silently. Not only the prisoners, but also their families need to be aware of the laws and the various rights that a prisoner is entitled to. Only then can these rights be exercised by the prisoners and their families. Various awareness programs must be held to help prisoners realise their rights. It is not only the duty of the police and the other prison officials, but also the law that they inform the prisoner of his basic rights.
The frequency of jail inspections must be increased so as to keep a check on the proper maintenance of prisoners in the prisons and all the rules in the Prison Manual must be followed properly.
Human rights are universal in nature and it applies to all human beings and ‘rights of prisoners’, being a part of these human rights, must be taken more seriously and it must be given the same status and level of importance as any other human right. Having a conscience as a result of being human, it is imperative that we understand that we cannot let another fellow human being suffer in such deplorable and disheartening conditions and we must all work together in spreading awareness and uplifting this section of the human society.
 Model Prison Manual for the Superintendence and Management of Prisons in India, prepared by the Bureau of Police Research andDevelopment,2003
 Charles Sobhraj vs. Superintendent, Tihar Jail, AIR 1978, SC 1514
 Jon Vagg. Prison System- A Comparative Study of Accountability in England, France, Germany and the Netherlands, Clarenden Press, Oxford 1994
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 5
 United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 10
National Human Rights Commission of India- Living Conditions and Human Rights of Inmates, Volume I, 2013.
 Chapter IV, Sections 6.01, 6.02 and 6.03, 2003, Model Prison Manual for the Superintendence and Management of Prisons in India, prepared by the Bureau of Police Research andDevelopment,2003
 Chapter IV, Section 6.04, 2003, Model Prison Manual for the Superintendence and Management of Prisons in India, prepared by the Bureau of Police Research andDevelopment,2003
 Chapter IV, Section 6.07, 2003, Model Prison Manual for the Superintendence and Management of Prisons in India, prepared by the Bureau of Police Research andDevelopment,2003
 Occupancy rate is defined as number of inmates staying in jails against the authorized capacity for 100 inmates. – Prison Statistics India 2014
 Prison Statistics of India 2014, Chapter
Prison Statistics India 2014.
 A report based on the proceedings on the workshops organised at Bhopal by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) in collaboration with the Madhya Pradesh Human Rights Commission (MPHRC)- Prisons and Human Rights, 1998.
 Chapter VII, Section 7.70, 2003, Model Prison Manual for the Superintendence and Management of Prisons in India, prepared by the Bureau of Police Research andDevelopment,2003
 Chapter VII, Section 7.15, 2003, Model Prison Manual for the Superintendence and Management of Prisons in India, prepared by the Bureau of Police Research and Development,2003
 Chapter VII, Section 7.16, 2003, Model Prison Manual for the Superintendence and Management of Prisons in India, prepared by the Bureau of Police Research and Development,2003