After the alleged suicides of two inmates in Tihar jail within one week, Indian prisons are once again under scrutiny. Ram Singh, the under trial in the Dec 16 gangrape case was found hanging in his cell on Monday, under questionable circumstances. Three days later, another under-trial, Reshma hung herself. Both reportedly showed signs of depression.
While most states have reported an increase in the budget allocation (an all-India average of 8.2%) for prisons, the situation is grim. The Model Prison Manual makes it mandatory to appoint medical officers, counsellors and psychiatrists but in most prisons, these posts lie vacant.
Even a major central jail like Tihar has 35 such posts lying vacant out of the allotted 112. Of the 13 central jails covered by Hindustan Times reporters in various states, only one jail apart from Tihar had an on-roll officer for psychological help. A study on Karnataka jails by NIMHANS in 2011, revealed about 79.6% of the inmates were suffering from mental illness or substance abuse.
“Jails in the US and Europe usually have a majority of convicts and under-trials are a minority, but it is reversed here,” said Sunil Gupta, spokesperson, Tihar jail. Majority of the prisons surveyed were over crowded; some packed upto 250% of its capacity.
The national average of overcrowding, according to National Crime Records Bureau, is 112%. The percentage of under trial and convicted prisoners in various jails was reported as 64.7% and 34.5% respectively.
Surveillance is a major issue. Though the prison manual clearly mentions that the ratio of the guards to the inmates should be 1:6, guard-inmates ratio as high as 1:225 and 1:438 was found in some jails.
Number of inmates: Overcrowding is a common problem across Indian prisons. Tihar jail which has a capacity of around 6,500, houses 12,113 inmates. Parappana Agrahara Central Jail (Bangalore) houses 4,900 against a capacity of only 2,100.
Raipur Central Jail (Chhattisgarh) has 2,563 inmates against a capacity 1,130.
Jails across UP has almost twice the number the prisoner capacity. Naini Central Jail (Allahabad) has 4,000 inmates for a space of only 1,800.
Number of guards: Lack of personnel is a major issue. Many state prisons like Yerwada Central Jail (Pune) has a steep guard-prisoner ratio of 1:438, while Parappana Agrahara Jail has a ratio of 1:225.
Unnatural deaths: UP jails have notoriously high number of unnatural deaths. In the past four years, 30 deaths due to murder or suicide were reported. Central jails such as Parappana Agrahara Jail reported 17 suicides in the last three years; Puzhal Central Jail Complex (Chennai) reports an average of four to five unnatural deaths per year. Tihar Jail saw four suicides since 2012 and prisons in Assam have reported four deaths in last one year.
Psychological support: Most of the prisons surveyed didn’t have any such facility. But jails like Puzhal Central Jail has one psychologist on roll for 2,300 prisoners; while Nabha Jail (Punjab), Suddhowala Prison (Dehradun) and Naini Central Jail (Allahabad) has one available only on demand. Jails in Chhattisgarh and Assam provide yoga and art of living in the name of psychological support.
Break-outs: Recently a tunnel was found in Sabarmati Central Jail (Gujarat), believed to be dug by alleged terrorists accused in Ahmedabad serial blasts. State home department later formed a committee to ascertain whether any staff was involved. Another instance was reported in Burail Model Jail (Chandigarh), when three accused in Beant Singh assasination escaped in a tunnel that went beneath three walled security.
Reported scandals: Inmates in Nabha Jail were found with smartphones using Skype, Whatsapp and making international calls. A gym was also found in the jail. In addition, the jail's Gurudwara was controlled by hardliners convincing inmates to fight for Khalistan. Yerwada Jail which has seen notorious elements like Chota Rajan and Arun Gawli, witnessed the murder of the accused in Pune blast case. In 2011, Tihar jail authorities, had suspended three officials after an inquiry into allegations of preferential treatment to high-profile inmates. In 2011, prisoners in Gopalganj jail, killed a doctor for not submitting to their dictates. In 2010, Amit Shah, key accused in the Sohrabuddin encounter, was sent to Sabarmati jail. He was allegedly showered with preferential treatment. The authorities there have also been grappling with the rising instances of mobiles being smuggled in and also seized 66 weapons in 2009.
Layers of security: Most of the central prisons have three layered security but an extra layer is added near VIP or high risk cells. While big prisons like Tihar, Parappana, Sabarmati and Nabha install CCTVs and mobile jammers, relatively smaller Guwahati and Yerwada central jails either lack that facility or have planned such initiative.
Basic facilities: Amenities like water and daily food supplies are available. Although, cases of serving non-hygienic food, and poor cell maintenance are a commonly reported. Provisions of medical treatment, jail dispensary have also been reported in the jails, but discrepancies were found. The living conditions in UP prisons were reportedly getting worse when compared with facilities provided earlier.
— Naveen Kumar Ammembala, Vishal Rambani, KV Lakshmana, Ejaz Kaiser, Rohit K Singh, Digambar Patowary, Satyajit Joshi, Mahesh Langa, Monica Sharma, Rai Atul Krishna, Anupam Trivedi, Deepak Mahato, Abhishek Sharan with Furquan A Siddiqui