GS2: powers, functions and responsibilities of various Statutory, regulatory and various quasi-judicial bodies

What is the issue?

  • The Prison Statistics India 2016 report was published by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) some time back.
  • The lack of certain categories of information in the report calls for the NCRB to be more prompt and open in releasing data.

BACKGROUND

  • Overcrowding : According to Centre’s reply in response to a question in the Lok Sabha in 2017, 149 jails in the country are overcrowded by more than 100% and that 8 are overcrowded by margins of a 500%.
  • Under-trials- More than 65% of the prison population in India are under trials.
  • Legal aid lawyers are poorly paid, and often over-burdened with cases. Further, there is no monitoring mechanism to evaluate the quality of legal aid representation in most states.
  • Prison structures in India are in dilapidated condition. Further, lack of space, poor ventilation, poor sanitation and hygiene make living conditions deplorable in Indian prisons.
  • The ratio between the prison staff and the prison population is approximately 1:7. In the absence of adequate prison staff, overcrowding of prisons leads to rampant violence and other criminal activities inside the jails.
  • Prisoners are subjected to inhuman psychological and physical torture. Sexual abuse of persons in custody is also part of the broader pattern of torture in custody.
  • In 2015, a total of 1,584 prisoners died in jails. A large proportion of the deaths in custody were from natural and easily curable causes aggravated by poor prison conditions.
  • Labour is extracted from prisoners without paying proper wages.
  • According to Humans Rights Watch, a “rigid” class system exists in the Indian prisons. There is rampant corruption in the prison system and those who can afford to bribe, often enjoy luxuries in prison.
  • Poor security measures and prison management often leads to violence among inmates and resultant injury and in some cases death.
  • In the prison the problem of the overcrowding, poor sanitary facilities, lack of physical and mental activities, lack of decent health care, increase the likelihood of health problems.
  • Women prisoners face number of challenges including poor nutrional intake, poor health and lack of basic sanitation and hygiene.
  • Absence of reformative approach in Indian prison system has not only resulted in ineffective integration with society but also has failed to provide productive engagement opportunities for prisoners after their release SC Judgements.

Prisons and Prison Laws in India:

  • Prison is a State subject under List-II of the Seventh Schedule in the Constitution.
  • The management and administration of Prisons falls exclusively in the domain of the State Governments, and is governed by the Prisons Act, 1894 and the Prison Manuals of the respective State Governments.
  • Thus, States have the primary role, responsibility and power to change the current prison laws, rules and regulations.
  • The Prisons Act, 1894: It contains various provisions relating to health, employment, duties of jail officers, medical examination of prisoners, prison offences etc.
  • Transfer of Prisoners Act, 1950 – The Act deals with transfer of prisoner from state to another state
  • Repatriation of Prisoners Act, 2003: The act enables the transfer of foreign prisoners to the country of their origin to serve the remaining part of their sentence. It also enables the transfer of prisoners of Indian origin convicted by a foreign court to serve their sentence in India
  • Model Prison Manual 2016: It aims at bringing in basic uniformity in laws, rules and regulations governing the administration of prisons and the management of prisoners across all the states and UTs in India
  • Legal service Authority Act, 1987: According to the law, a person in custody is entitled to free legal aid.

Recommendations of the Mulla committee (1980-83)

  • Improving prison condition by making available proper food, clothing, sanitation;
  • The prison staff to be properly trained and organized into different cadres.
  • Setting up an All India Service called the Indian Prisons & Correctional Service.
  • After-care, rehabilitation and probation to be an integral part of prison service.
  • The press and public to be allowed inside prisons and allied correctional institutions periodically, so that the public may have first-hand information about the conditions of prisons and be willing to co-operate in rehabilitation work.
  • Undertrials in jails to be reduced to bare minimum and they be kept away from convicts.
  • Undertrials constitute a sizable portion of prison population. Their number to be reduced by speedy trial and liberalization of bail provisions.
  • The Government may make an effort to provide adequate financial resources.

Krishna Iyer Committee, 1987

  • The committee mandated to study the condition of women prisoners in the country, recommended induction of more women in the police force in view of their special role in tackling women and child offenders.

DISCUSSION

Highlights NCRB report

  • Prison population – The report notes that at the end of 2016, there were close to 4,33,000 people in prison.
  • Of these, 68% were undertrials, or people who are yet to be found guilty of the crimes they are accused of.
  • India’s under-trial population remains among the highest in the world.
  • More than half of all undertrials were detained for less than 6 months in 2016.
  • This suggests that the high proportion of undertrials in the overall prison population may be the result of unnecessary arrests and ineffective legal aid during remand hearings.
  • Preventive detention – Another concern is the rise in the number of people held under administrative (or ‘preventive’) detention laws in Jammu and Kashmir.
  • There has been a 300% increase, with 431 detainees in 2016, compared to 90 in 2015.
  • Administrative, or ‘preventive’, detention is being used by authorities to unfairly detain persons without charge or trial and circumvent regular criminal justice procedures.
  • Prisoner release – A new and important addition to the report is the data on number of prisoners eligible to be released and actually released.
  • In 2016, out of the nearly 1,500 undertrials found eligible for release under Section 436A, only 929 were released.
  • [Section 436A of the Code of Criminal Procedure allows undertrials to be released on a personal bond.
  • This is possible if they have undergone half of the maximum term of imprisonment they would have faced if convicted.]
  • Research by Amnesty India has found that prison officials are frequently unaware of this section and unwilling to apply it.
  • In 2017, the Law Commission of India had recommended that undertrials who have completed a third of their maximum sentence for offences attracting up to 7 years of imprisonment be released on bail.
  • The NCRB could consider including the number of such undertrials in its upcoming report for informing the policy on the use of undertrial detention.]
  • Unnatural deaths – Unnatural deaths doubled between 2015 and 2016, from 115 to 231.
  • Mental health concerns – About 6,000 individuals with mental illness were in jail in 2016.
  • The rate of suicide among prisoners has also increased by 28%, from 77 in 2015 to 102 in 2016.
  • The National Human Rights Commission in 2014 stated that on average, a person is one-and-a-half times more likely to commit suicide in prison than outside.
  • This is an indicator of the magnitude of mental health concerns within prisons.
  • Moreover, the report mentions that there was only one mental health professional for every 21,650 prisoners, in 2016.
  • Only 6 States and one Union Territory had psychologists/psychiatrists.
  • Odisha, U.P. and M.P., the 3 States with the most prisoners with mental illness, did not have a single psychologist or psychiatrist.

Shortcomings in the report

  • Demographic details – The NCRB failed to include demographic details of religion, and the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe status of prisoners.
  • But these demographic details, which were consistently published for the last 20 years, are crucial to understand India’s prison population.
  • It had, notably, been instrumental in revealing the overrepresentation of Muslims, Dalits and Adivasis among under-trials in prisons.
  • [The 2015 report noted that Muslims, Dalits and Adivasis accounted for 55% of the under-trial population.
  • This was despite the fact that they made up only 50% of the convict population and 38% of the total Indian population.]
  • Prison visits – The 2016 prison statistics do not mention the number of prison visits by official and non-official visitors.
  • [The non-official visitors include district magistrates and judges, social workers and researchers.]
  • The number of “unnatural” deaths in prisons underlines the relevance of prison visits.
  • The details on this aspect can be used to provide some information on independent monitoring of prisons.
  • This is essential to uncover torture and other forms of ill-treatment, increase transparency and balance the power asymmetry in prisons.
  • Mental health concerns – The report does not provide information on whether the reported mentally affected prisoners were diagnosed with mental illness before entering prison.
  • The resultant lack of clarity thus makes it difficult to determine whether prison conditions worsened their plight.

Steps taken so far

  • 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. Various components included construction of new jails, repair and renovation of existing jails, improvement in sanitation and water supply etc.
  • E-Prisons Project: It aims to introduce efficiency in prison management through digitization
  • Draft National Policy on Prison Reforms and Correctional Administration

Way forward

  • This present report is different from its earlier versions on account of its omission of certain key data.
  • However, despite these gaps, the report brings to light some concerns involved in India’s prison system.
  • The important information in the report has to be utilised, to facilitate a dialogue on improving prison policies.
  • Going forward, the NCRB should also address the shortcomings and open about its prison statistics for appreciable democratic discourse in India.

# Practice Question

  1. Data on criminal activities are the foundation stone for any policy in this regard. Do you think that the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) serve its purpose in policy making in India.( 200 words)