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Author: M. Rajendra Rushi, V year of B.A.,LL.B. from Ramaiah College of Law


Prisons in India are seen as a reformative institution with the concept of “hate the sin, not the sinner[i]. These are the correctional homes, detention centers, or remand centers which epitomize a system of punishment and an institution for convicts and undertrials during the period of trial. In this modern era, a society cannot be imagined without crime and criminals, which paves the way for the concept of prison. Prisons were considered “houses of captives” where prisoners are kept for deterrent and retributive punishment. Section 3 of the Prisons Act, of 1894 defines the term prison which says that“any jail or place used permanently or temporarily under the general or special orders of a State Government for the detention of prisoners, and includes all lands and buildings appurtenant thereto[ii]Imprisonment is curtailing individuals’ freedom as a punitive measure for the crime committed.

UnchiDiwaronKePeechheyLohey Ki Salakhon Kya Andar Rehtey Hain MuqaffalKuchInsaan, Jo Nahi IkGinti Hai

{Locked behind high walls and iron walls, an unfortunate human world slumbers here they have lost even their names, and now they are just a roll of numbers}[iii].


Vedic Period

During the Vedic and imperial periods, it was the concept to prevent the criminal from committing crimes by Afflicting punishments like the death penalty, branding, flogging, pelting with stones, etc which were all barbaric punishments prevalent during that period.

Medieval Period

Even though there was a transition and change of time from that of the Vedic period the practice of criminality and punishments were similar throughout the civilization. The crimes were broadly classified into three aspects: sins against God or religious beliefs, offenses against a private individual, and offenses against the king or State.

Pre Independence period

The foundation of the modern prison system in India was an ideology of TB Macaulay in 1835 and a committee was formed in 1838 named the “Prison Discipline Committee” submitting a report recommendingrigorous treatment of prisoners while rejecting all humanitarian needs and measures. The enactment of the Prisons Act 1861 and 1894 can be recognized as a landmark in the event of Prison Reforms in India. The colonial law forms the foundation for the current jail management and administration in this largest democratic nation. Sir Alexander Cardio chaired the Indian Jail Reforms Committee in 1919-20, and for the first time in India’s colonial history declared reforms and rehabilitation as the objective of prison administration, after a detailed analysis of various other nation’s prisoners across the globe, it opined that the prisons should not only have evolving theories but should also consist a rehabilitation strategy. It further recommended that the maximum intake capacity of each jail should be fixed, depending on its shape and size.


The Mulla Committee[iv]

  • All India Committee on jail reforms 1980-83 was constituted under the chairmanship of Justice Anand Narain Mulla. This committee suggested setting up of National Prison Commission as a continuing body to bring modernizationto prisons. The main objective of this committee was to review the laws, rules, and regulations keeping in view the overall objective of protecting society and rehabilitating the offenders. Some recommendations made by Mulla Committee are:

  • Improving the prison conditions by arranging adequate necessities like food, clothing, sanitation, ventilation, etc.

  • Prison staff should be properly trained and organized into different cadres.

  • First-hand information to the media and public should be given by allowing them to visit the prison, which empowers them to see the prisoner’s conditions, duties performed by prison officials, etc.

  • Lodging of undertrials should be reduced to the bare minimum, they should be kept away from convicted.

  • Government should provide adequate resources and funds for prison reforms.

The Krishna Iyer Committee

In 1987, the Government of India appointed Justice Krishna Iyer’s Committee to study the conditions of women prisoners. It recommended for induction of more women in the police force to play a crucial role in tackling women prisoners and child offenders. It is necessary to withhold the dignity of women even if she’s convicted or under trial prisoner. Women are considered a marginalized and vulnerable sect prone to exploitation even in prisons. The committee emphasized security and protection for women, to maintain the necessary standards of prison and protection of their human rights.

There are various programs initiated by various state governments for prison reforms:

Educational facilities: providing education to inmates in affiliation with the Indira Gandhi National Open University and National Open School. The prisons are also providing library facilities with the help of NGOs, they conduct technical education where they certify the prisoners.

Vocational Training: prisons also provide a platform for earning by making candles, furniture like chairs, tables, etc.., they are trained to manufacture pens, tailoring, shoe making, etc. for the post-release rehabilitation of prisoners these skills help them to easily become part of the society, the social Welfare Department of State Govt. provides loans for setting up small-scaled self-employment units.

Prisons Grievance Redressal Cell: It allows the prisoners to write complaints or put forth their grievances and send them to senior officers. These are put in complaint boxes which are located in convenient places or through mobile petition boxes which are addressed to D.G/ Addl. I.G.(Prison). The senior officers try to reciprocate the grievances by providing an appropriate solution.

Regular Medical Check-ups: the prison reforms protect the fundamental rights of all individuals, there are periodical visits of medical officers to keep a track of prisoners’ mental and physical health, and the state and the central governments provide various medical and physiologicalaidas well.


The concept of prison falls under the ambit of List II of the 7th schedule of the Indian Constitution which is a state subject. It is governed by the Prison Act, of 1894 and every state has its prison manuals.It is the States responsibility and power to change the current prison provisions, rules, and regulations.Certain important statutes havebeen managing and regulating the prisons in the country:

  • The Indian Penal Code, 1860.

  • The Prisons Act, 1894.

  • The Prisoners Act, 1900.

  • The Identification of Prisoners Act, 1920.

  • Constitution of India, 1950.

  • The Transfer of Prisoners Act, 1950.

  • The Representation of People Act, 1951.

  • The Prisoners (Attendance in Courts) Act, 1955.

  • The Probation of Offenders Act, 1958.

  • The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.

  • The Mental Health Act, 1987.

  • The Juvenile Justice (Care & Protection) Act, 2000.

  • The Repatriation of Prisoners Act, 2003.

  • Model Prison Manual (2016).

Major Problems of Prisons in India[v]

Every developing nation hassome common relative problems and the situations are likely to be the same or even worse. Unsatisfactory living conditions, lack of medical support, lack of infrastructure, prolonged detention of undertrial prisoners, overcrowding, and poor maintenance of prison standards are a few prominent issues.

The Indian judicial system believes that “Justice delayed is Justice Denied”, but the current prison system is strictly lacking in various aspects like not having a speedy trial, police inability to produce adequate witnesses or failure to perform their necessary duties,and the defense attorneys taking numerous adjournments, all these elements are hampering citizens trust and faith on the Indian judiciary or Indian Criminal Justice System which also include the following:

  • Corruption and Exaction

  • Unsatisfactory Living Conditions

  • Political Influence

  • Discrimination and Inequalities

  • Lack of Medical Assistance

  • Lack of Legal Assistance and Legal Aid

  • Abuse of Prisoners

  • Poor Maintenance of Prison

  • Misuse or poor spending of funds on the health and hygiene of prisoners.

Since the prison comes under the state subject, it is difficult to have a uniform prison management mechanism, prisoners do not have voting rights as they don’t fall under the voting constituency, thus they are politically irrelevant as the Representation of Peoples Act excludes the prisoners from voting. Thus, they are politically side-lined. The poor treatment of prisoners often gives rise to questions of human rights violations as it tarnishes India’s image globally as the international agencies are always keen on protecting the human rights of every individual. Various judicial precedents throw light on the importance of the prisoner’s human rights that must be protected and also by systematically analyzing and implementing various committee recommendations set up by the Government.

Concept of Open Prison

In India, the concept of an open prison system can be traced back to 1836 when the first All India Jail Committee was set up, but then the results were not satisfactory and various committees were appointed amongst all the important one was the All India Committee on Jail Reforms 1956. Ramamurthy v State of Karnataka is one of the earliest cases that put forward the concept of open-air prison.

Open Prison or an Open-air Jail has been set up with minimum measures against escape and with a rehabilitative and reformative approach rather than a deterrent one as compared to traditional or controlled prisons. Here the prisoners are allowed to work outside the prison premises and return to the prison at night. Open Prisons are intended to provide a less restrictive environment for inmates who have demonstrated good behavior and a willingness to reform. It allows the prisoners to develop a sense of responsibility and self-discipline and to maintain contact with their families and communities. There are various advantages of open-air prisons when compared to controlled prisons like,

  • It helps in reducing overcrowding

  • Open Prisons are less expensive than that traditional prisons.

  • The maintenance and construction are reduced

  • Helps in the conservation of natural resources

  • Helps in widening the rehabilitative process

  • Helps the inmates to do productive work, and keeps them physically and mentally fit.

  • Helps in developing a sense of self-discipline and responsibility.

  • Helps in maintaining social relations with the outside world.

In the case of Sunil Batra v Delhi Administration[vi] here the Hon’ble Supreme Court held that a person under a death sentence is held in jail custody so that he is available for execution of the death sentence when the time comes. No punitive detention can be imposed on him by jail authorities except for prison offenses. He is not to be detained in solitary confinement as it will amount to punishinghim for the same offense more than once which would be violative of Article20(2)[vii].

In the case of Rammurthy v State of Karnataka,[viii] the Hon’ble Court had identified nine issues faced by the prisoners which need reforms.

  • Overcrowding

  • Delay in trial

  • Torture and ill-treatment

  • Neglect of health and hygiene

  • Insufficient food in adequate cooking

  • Prison vices

  • Deficiency in communication

  • Streamlining jail visits

  • Management of open-air prisoners

It is the states duty to ensure free Legal aid under Article 39A which is made available to the prisoner under the Indian Constitution “M H Hoskot v State of Maharashtra[ix]

In one of the judgments, the court held that the prisoners are entitled to minimum wages for the work they had done inside the prison.[x]


There are various committees set up to study the problems of the prisons in India and also for improving the jail conditions, even though the prisons should act as reformative institutions but we still find that the prisoners come out as hardened persons with no reformation Thisemphasizes to strengthen the aspects of correctional homes and the treatment towards the prisoners should be humane and sensible as we know that “every saint had a past and every sinner has a future”, there should be no bias or discrimination towards the prisoner. A clear emphasis should be laid on protecting their human rights. Prison should provide a platform for prisoners to restart their lives once they are out of prison. Its objective is not only to act as a punitive measure but also to reform the criminal.

I A quote by MK Gandhi. [ii] Section 3 of Prisons Act, 1894. [iii] report by all India committee on jail reforms vol 1 pi (1980-1983). [iv]All India Committee on Prison Reforms Report (Mulla Committee) [v] major problems of the prison system in India. [vi] (1978)4 SCC 409 [vii] Article 20(2), no person shall be prosecuted and punished for the same offense more than once. [viii]Ibid. [ix] (1978)3 SCC 544. [x]AIR 1998 SC 3164, State of Gujrat v hon’ble high court of Gujrat.

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