Blog Image

Prisons in India


by Faiz Ayat Ansari*

Whenever one hears the word prison an implied feeling of being confined immediately steps on to the mind. Talking in terms of definitions, we can have a look at certain official ones.

According to The Oxford English Dictionary Vol.VIII P. 1385 “Prison has been defined as "a place properly arranged and equipped for reception of persons who by legal processes are committed to it for safe custody while awaiting trial or for punishment.”
Section 3 of the Prisons Act, 1894 (Act IX of 1894) defines prisons as: "Prison" means any jail or place used permanently or temporarily under general or special orders of the State Government for the detention of Prisoners and include all lands and buildings appurtenant thereto, but does not include - any place for the confinement of prisoners who are exclusively in the custody of the police.”


The international provisions regarding the arrest of any person and thereby putting him inside the prison are really well founded. This special regard to the human rights of the Prisoners primarily comes from various conventions all around the world. One cannot deny the fact that if there is a place where the human rights of the Prisoners are given at most important then it is Europe. 

Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 
Article 5 - No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Article 9 - No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.
Article 11 -  Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.
Article 14 -  Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution. This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.
The Third Geneva Convention  1949  
It is related to the treatment of prisoners of war, it is one of the four treaties of Geneva Conventions. The Geneva Convention related to the Treatment of Prisoners of War was first adopted in 1929, but significantly revised and replaced by Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949. It defines humanitarian protections for prisoners of war. There are 196 states parties to the convention.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1976 
Article 7 - It prohibits torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment.
Article 9 - It recognizes the rights to liberty and security of the person. It prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, requires any deprivation of liberty to be according to law, and obliges parties to allow those deprived of their liberty to challenge their imprisonment through the courts
Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners 
In order to enhance the rights of the prisoners a general consensus was arrived at in which certain standard minimum rules for the treatment of prisoners were made. They were adopted by the First United Nations Congress on the Prevention of  Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, held at Geneva in 1955, and approved by the Economic and Social Council by its resolutions.   The purpose of these rules was to set out what is generally accepted as being good principle and practice in the treatment of prisoners and the management of institutions relating thereto. Some of the Rules are:
Separation of categories of prisoners taking account age, sex etc.
The place where they are detained shall be so constructed that   entrance of fresh air and natural light.
Every prisoner shall be provided by the administration at the usual hours with food of nutritional value adequate for health and strength.
There should be availability of Medical Services, Sports, Entertainment, Education Facilities etc.


As is the case with most of the things in the Indian legal system the current prison system is also a result of the British colonisation of India. The provisions of India related to the condition of the prisons are also quite decent. But as is the case with most of the legal hurdles in India the primary difficulty in India for the implementation of better prisons has been an administrative one. Sometimes even the monetary constraints force the authority to not implement certain reforms. However this issue can easily be resolved with a better sense of implementation and honesty. 
In India, the early prisons were only places of detention where an  offender was detained until trial & judgment and the execution of the latter. 
The Modern Prison reforms was originally adopted by TB Macauly in 1835. Certain further events caused the prison reforms in India.
The Prison Discipline Committee was formed in 1836. 
In 1870 the Government of India passed Prisons Act. 
The committee of 1888 elaborated rules of prison administration.
Prisons Act 1894.
Indian Jail Committee, 1919 – It focused on Prison labour 
After Independence mainly two committees played an important role  in prison reforms. They were the Mulla Committee and the Krishna Iyer Committee.


Prisons and their administration comes under State List in the 7th Schedule of the Constitution.
It is Governed by Prisons Act , 1894. Other types of prisons are women jails, open jails, special jails etc. Besides this, the Supreme Court has also issued the guidelines relating to prison reforms from time to time.


Over Crowding in Prison.
Criminality in Prison.
Inadequate Prison Programmes.
Differential Treatment to Prisoners.
Lack of Facilities like Food, Sanitation, Health etc.
Large number of Undertrial Prisoners.
Lack of Activities like Yoga, Vocational Programmes etc.
Sexual offences with Women Prisoners
Though the standards of the all prisons  around the world has been kept really high keeping  the Human Rights in mind. However, the situation in India is indeed a really sad one.


The main aim of prison reform is the reformation of prisons as well as the prisoners. Some sort of reforms is required in every prison system. The legal systems around the world have started giving more importance to the reformative theory of punishment rather than the deterrent theory of punishment. India, in principle has also recognised the same thought process. To implement the same there needs to be a change in the situation of the prisons in the country. Greater humane conditions of living are required to be implemented at prisons all over India. However when one sees the actual condition of the presence in India it is hard to find that India is really pursuing the reformative theory of punishment simultaneously with the deterrent theory of punishment. Though , even in today\'s scenario one cannot totally outcast the deterrent theory of punishment but at the same time the reformative theory of punishment commands its own importance and the same can only be implemented when the condition of the prisons themselves are reformed to that extent.