Overcrowded jails fail to either deliver justice or reform criminals
Overcrowding in prisons has a direct, but often underrated, impact on the security of prisons, and health and hygiene of inmates. It, jail authorities agree, also has an adverse effect on the mental health of inmateseditorials Updated: Aug 09, 2017 13:53 IST
Replying to a question raised in Lok Sabha, minister of state for home Hansraj Ahir said that more than 10% of prisons in India had an overcrowding rate of more than 200%. Of the 1,401 prisons across the country, 149 were holding more than double the number of inmates. This not only reflects poorly on the management of prisons but also the failure of the judicial process to dispose cases in a time-bound manner. Though the occupancy rate (number of inmates against the authorised capacity of 100 inmates) in prisons has been decreasing slightly over the years, it is still above capacity — at present the average in India is 114%.
Overcrowding in prisons has a direct, but often underrated, impact on the security of prisons, and health and hygiene of inmates. It, jail authorities agree, also has an adverse effect on the mental health of inmates.
One of the reasons for overcrowding in prisons is the overwhelming number of undertrials awaiting a verdict. According to the Prison Statistics India 2015 report, published in September, 67% (or 282,076) of the total 419,623 inmates in India’s 1,401 prisons are undertrials. Dadra & Nagar Haveli, with 276% has the most overcrowded prisons. This is followed by Chhattisgarh (234%) and Delhi (227%).
If trials and convictions took place in a timely manner and the judiciary was working at full force the number of inmates in prisons would have drastically reduced. According to the report, more than 3,500 undertrails have been in jail for more than five years awaiting a trail — in many cases the time these undertrials would have spent in jail if convicted would be shorter. Another reason why there are a high number of undertrails is that many of them do not have adequate access to legal aid.
Jails are meant to be correction facilities, where convicts are expected to realise their mistakes and are guided to become better citizens by the time they finish their sentence. In the process they are also trained in skills to prevent them from going back to their old ways once their sentence is served. The basic purpose of a prison in a modern democracy is that of a correctional facility — but that’s not the case in India. Here we often hear stories of how petty criminals turn hardcore after spending time in jail. Jails often become, and continue to be, places where criminals cool their heels while plotting future plans. Also, modernising of jails has been a project in the pipeline for far too long and it’s time some visible progress is made on this front.
The criminal justice system is not well served if jails continue to be in such a shambles.