Q. Why is this in News?
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has prepared the ‘Model Prisons Act 2023’ that will replace a British-era law, (the Prisons Act of 1894), to overhaul the prison administration that will focus on the reformation and rehabilitation of inmates.
Q. What is the Model Prisons Act 2023?
- There are “several lacunae” in the old pre-Independence act, Prisons Act of 1894 and there was “conspicuous omission” of the correctional focus in the existing Act.
- The Prision Act 1894 mainly focuses on keeping the criminals in custody and enforcement of discipline and order in Prisons. There is no provision for reform and rehabilitation of prisoners in this Act.
- Salient Features of the New Act:
- Provisions of punishment for prisoners and jail staﬀ for use of prohibited items such as mobile phones in jails.
- Establishment and management of high security jails, open jail (open and semi-open).
- Provisions for protecting society from the criminal activities of hardened criminals and habitual offenders.
- Providing legal aid to prisoners, parole, furlough and premature release to incentivize good conduct.
- Security assessment and segregation of prisoners, individual sentence planning; grievance redressal, prison development board, attitudinal change towards prisoners and provision of separate accommodation for women prisoners, transgender, etc.
- There are provisions for use of technology in prison administration with a view to bring transparency in prison administration, provision for videoconferencing with courts, scientiﬁc and technological interventions in prisons, etc.
- In India, prisons and the ‘persons detained therein’ are a State subject. The Model Prisons Act, 2023 may serve as a guiding document for states for adoption in their jurisdiction.
- The Prisoners Act of 1900 and the Transfer of Prisoners Act, 1950 are also decades-old and relevant provisions of these Acts have been assimilated in the Model Prisons Act, 2023, expecting to bring much-needed reforms to the Indian prison system and align it with international standards.
Q. What are the Problems of Prisons in India?
- Overcrowding of the Prisons:
- Overcrowding has been one of the grave issues of the prison system in India. As to a report by the National Crimes Record Bureau that the occupancy rate of jails is 118.5% of the prison capacity.
- It was observed that there were about 4,78,600 prisoners in different prisons, but the capacity of the prisons was just 4,03,700.
- Overcrowding leads to poor living conditions. It also leads to the transmission of many communicable diseases.
- Health and Hygiene:
- A lot of jails do not have proper medical facilities. This creates neglect towards the prisoners and most of them remain untreated. Hygiene is also not proper among the prisoners.
- Delay in Trials:
- A lot of cases are pending for many years. This leads to a disruption in the prison administration system. However, the Supreme Court, in Hussainara Khatoon v. Home Secretary 1979 recognized the right to speedy trial of the prisoners.
- Custodial Torture:
- Custodial tortures among prisoners are quite prevalent. Though third-degree torture by police is not allowed after the landmark judgment in D.K Basu's case 1986, there is still a prevalence of brutal violence inside the prisons.
- According to the Ministry of Home Affairs, a total of 146 cases of death in police custody were reported during 2017-2018, in the last five years, the highest number of custodial deaths (80) has been reported in Gujarat, followed by Maharashtra (76), Uttar Pradesh (41).
- Women and Children:
- Women criminals are relatively low in number. They face both physical and mental problems including lack of sanitation facilities, lack of care during pregnancy, lack of educational training.
- Children are mostly kept in correctional homes rather than jails so that they can reform themselves and go back to their normal life. However, they also face a lot of abuse and undergo psychological traumas.
Q. How to Overcome these Problems?
- The Supreme Court has set up a committee in 2018 headed by its retired judge Justice Amitava Roy on Prison Reforms.
- Some recommendations were made to overcome the problem of overcrowding i.e. speedy trials, increasing lawyer to prisoners ratio, the introduction of special courts, avoiding adjournment.
- They also recommended a free phone call for every new prisoner in his/her first week of jail. The committee also recommended modern kitchen facilities.
- Section 304 of the Indian Penal Code states the punishment for custodial deaths. Section 30 of the Protection of Human Rights Act states about the issuance of CCTV's inside the jails.
Q. What are the Initiatives Related to Prison Reforms in India?
- Modernization of Prisons Scheme: The scheme for modernisation of prisons was launched in 2002-03 with the objective of improving the condition of prisons, prisoners and prison personnel.
- Modernisation of Prisons Project (2021-26): Government has decided to provide financial assistance to States and UTs, through the Project for using modern-day security equipment in Prisons for:
- Enhancing the security of jails.
- To facilitate the task of reformation and rehabilitation of prisoners through correctional administration programmes.
- E-Prisons Project: The E-Prisons project aims to introduce efficiency in prison management through digitization.
- Model Prison Manual 2016: The manual provides detailed information about the legal services (including free services) available to prison inmates.
- National Legal Services Authority (NALSA): It was constituted under the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 which came into force on 9th November, 1995 to establish a nationwide uniform network for providing free and competent legal services to the weaker sections of the society.
Q. What is the Conclusion?
- The prison system in India has undergone significant reforms since ancient times, but it still requires further improvement in modern times.
- Despite the various prison reforms implemented in India, the situation has not improved significantly. It is important to recognize that while prisoners have committed crimes, they still possess certain rights that cannot be taken away from them.