Prisons in our country are unsafe, and actor Sanjay Dutt going to prison has highlighted that aspect yet again. Dutt being the star he is has attracted many demands from prominent people asking that he be provided better conditions in the jail, where he will be serving the remaining part of his five-year sentence for possessing illegal weapons during the 1993 bomb blasts in Mumbai. The reason for these requests is that Dutt’s life is in danger while in prison and that he should be given better facilities as he is a reformed person. While there might be some truth in these apprehensions given that our prison safety records are poor, it should not be used as an excuse for preferential treatment for a select few because of their position in society. Giving select privileges on certain grounds must be done away with or dealt with on a case-by-case basis. Entitlements — like special food, greater freedom in the prison, comfortable beds and coolers — are not the right of every prisoner. The authorities have to look at demands from prisoners on the nature of their crime and whether such things are absolutely required for their well being.
Dutt may be one prisoner who has got a lot of media attention. His case should occasion a look at the conditions in our jails. Our jails are overcrowded, undertrials and convicted criminals share the same space, the facilities for women prisoners are dismal, and security is nowhere as tight as it should be as seen by the mysterious death of one of the accused in the Delhi gang rape case. The bad management of inmates by prison authorities has led to crimes inside prisons. By lagging on this front, India is violating the UN Human Rights Committee norms (and norms of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights). According to a March 2011 report of the Asian Centre for Human Rights, more than 12,000 people have died in Indian prisons over the last decade — that’s an alarming three people a day.
Our overcrowded prisons and their poor living standards need to be looked into and changed if jails should actually be centres for reform and not last chance saloons from which there is no escape.