Prison reforms in India are a necessity of the time. The increasing number of crimes and the ever increasing number of inmates create a issue of overcrowding of prisoners in a very confined space. Almost as many as 10 cellmate in a small space, the sanitary conditions are just abominable and the prisoner abuse by the prison guards are rampant and the sexual abuse is no secret either. The inhumane treatment of the inmates is neglected by almost everyone and it doesn’t even cross our minds until its someone we love in the prison, in most cases the accused awaiting trial are also put into prison with the other convicted felons which goes against everything this justice system stands for being “ innocent until proven guilty.”
While the Supreme Court is seized with the matter concerning inhuman conditions of prisoners in prisons in India, primarily due to overcrowding of prisons, lack of training, personnel and infrastructure and is deliberating with the governments of states and centre to improve such conditions; treatment of prisoners in India is grim and secretly violative of fundamental as well as statutory rights of an individual. For this condition to improve, the rights of prisoners should be put in a two-page bullet pointed manual and compulsorily circulated to arrestees and prisoners, at the time of their arrest or production before a magistrate and again at the time of lodging in the prisons. Such rights, unless they are propagated and implemented in each corner and entire perimeter of the prism, are a nullity and betrayal of human faith on the criminal justice delivery system.
New Delhi (1978), Supreme Court Justice Krishna Aiyer held, “..imprisonment does not spell farewell to fundamental rights although, by a realistic re-appraisal, Courts will refuse to recognise the full panoply of Part III enjoyed by a free citizen”. He further held that imprisonment of a prisoner is not merely retribution or deterrence but also rehabilitation. He observed, “Social defence is the raison d’etre of the Penal Code and bears upon judicial control over prison administration. If a whole atmosphere of constant fear of violence, frequent torture and denial of opportunity to improve oneself is created or if medical facilities and basic elements of care and comfort necessary to sustain life are refused, then also the humane jurisdiction of the Court will become operational based on Article 19. Other forms of brutal unreasonableness and anti-rehabilitative attitude violative of constitutionality may be thought of in a penal system but we wish to lay down only a broad guideline that where policies, with a ‘Zoological touch’, which do not serve valid penal objectives are pursued in penitentiaries so as to inflict conditions so unreasonable as to frustrate the ability of inmates to engage in rehabilitation, the Court is not helpless. However, a prison system may make rational distinctions in making assignments to inmates of vocational, educational and work opportunities available, but it is constitutionally impermissible to do so without a functional classification system.”
Various fundamental rights under Article, 14, 19, 20, 21 and 22 of the Constitution of India impliedly deal with the rights of prisoners. Article 14 deals with right to equality which provides equality before law and equal protection of law to all persons. Article 21 deals with right to life and personal liberty. Article 20 deals, inter alia, with two things, firstly it prohibits double jeopardy, that is, no person should be convicted for same offence twice. Secondly, it prohibits self incrimination, that is, no one can be compelled to be witness against himself. Article 22 provides that a person must be produced before magistrate within 24 hours of his arrest and must be provided with a counsel of this own choice. Famous constitutional writer Upendar Baxi has opined that scope of Article 21 is so vast that we do not need any other rights in our Constitution, and in the light of the Supreme Court’s ‘construction’ of the meaning of ‘life’ under Article 21, whereby all the rights such as right to health, right to food, right to shelter, right to bail, right to speedy trial, right to free legal aid, right against custodial violence and death in police lock-ups or encounters, Right to meet friends and family members, Right to reasonable wage in prison, right against cruel and unusual punishment etc., have been included under it.
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