From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : NA
Mains level : Status of prisons in India and associated challenges
- Lieutenant-Governor of Delhi (L-G) Vinay Kumar Saxena directed the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) to allocate 1.6 lakh square metres of land to Delhi’s prison department to construct a district prison complex in Narela.
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Background: Recent prison reform debate
- Speech by president of India: At the Constitution Day celebrations organised by the Supreme Court in November 2022, President Draupadi Murmu shared a snippet of her journey with the audience.
- Prisoners unaware of their rights: She reflected on her visits to prisons across India and the circumstances of those incarcerated. She highlighted that these individuals were often unaware of their fundamental rights and had been incarcerated for prolonged periods for minor offences, while their families, struggling with poverty, were unable to bail them out.
- All organs of state must work together: President Murmu emphasised how the judiciary, executive, and legislature must work together to help them, and concluded by poignantly asking: How are we claiming that we are progressing as a nation, if we are still building prisons to address the issue of overcrowding?
What is the problematic architecture of Prison?
- High security prison in Delhi: In phase 1, which is expected to be completed by April 2024, a high-security jail is to be built in the complex with a capacity to lodge 250 high-risk prisoners.
- Stringent security measures: The prison administration has incorporated stringent security measures in the design such as constructing high walls between cells to prevent inmates from viewing others, and interacting with each other, as well as building office spaces between cells to facilitate surveillance.
- Intention of torture: Architecture of prisons is often used as a tool to surveillance, torture, and break the souls of inmates.
- Physical and mental health of prisoners: With this prison design, the Delhi prison administration is essentially creating solitary confinement which will have a severe detrimental effect on prisoners’ mental health.
Present condition of prisons in India
- Governed by colonial act: Prisons in India are still governed by the Prisons Act, 1894, a colonial legislation which treats prisoners as sub-par citizens, and provides the legal basis for punishment to be retributive, rather than rehabilitative.
- Caste biases in laws: These laws are also highly casteist, and remain largely unchanged since they were drafted by the British. For example, some jail manuals continue to focus on purity as prescribed by the caste system, and assign work in prison based on the prisoner’s caste identity.
- Colonial mindset in prison governance: Organisations such as the Vidhi Centre of Legal Policy have taken us one step further in identifying colonial legal continuities that India must shred, and the manner in which she can do so.
- SC/ST community suffers more: Furthermore, Dalits and Adivasis are over-represented in Indian prisons. The National Dalit Movement for Justice and the National Centre for Dalit Human Rights’ report ‘Criminal Justice in the Shadow of Caste’ explains the social, systemic, legal, and political barriers that contribute to this. Legislations such as the Habitual Offenders Act and Beggary Laws allow the police to target them for reported crimes.
What should be way forward?
- Preventive measures are necessary: We must take preventive measures before we realise that we have travelled far down this road, and have subjected several people to unnecessary trauma and confinement.
- Prison reforms rather than more prisons: With the warning signs beseeching us, we must amplify President Murmu’s message on the need to de-carcerate and stop building more prisons, so that the L-G takes adequate steps in that direction.
- Many prisoners in India continue to suffer for petty crimes just because of lack education and legal assistance. More than 70% of them are economically poor people. Government must address the false cases by police and judicial delay before building more prisons.
Q. Critically examine the present condition of prisons in India? prisons reform should be prior step than building more prisons. Comment.
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