Draft report on prison reforms: House panel suggests transfer of prisoners from congested jails
The parliamentary standing committee on home also recommended allowing women inmates to live with children till the age of 12
New Delhi: Transfer of prisoners from overcrowded jails to prisons with vacant cells within the state or other states; formation of a separate cadre of prison officials in Union territories; creation of separate barracks for transgender inmates — these are among a list of suggestions made by the parliamentary standing committee on home affairs in its draft report on prison reforms.
The standing committee, headed by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Rajya Sabha member Brij Lal [also a former Uttar Pradesh police chief], also suggested that women prisoners be allowed to live with their children till the age of 12.
“The committee notes that the issue of overcrowding and delayed justice has become a pressing concern, leading to a series of consequences for both the prisoners and the criminal justice system,” the draft report, which is set to be taken up for adoption by the committee on Thursday, stated.
“The committee recommends that prisoners from overcrowded jails may be transferred to other jails with vacant cells in the same state or other states by signing MoUs [memorandums of understanding] to that effect. This kind of an arrangement can be mutual in nature between the states signing the MoU,” it added.
The 31-member parliamentary standing committee on home affairs prepared the report after six meetings, interaction and reports received from prison officials across the country. The committee took up the subject — Prisons: Conditions Infrastructure and Reforms — for examination on October 14, 2020.
The standing committee on home affairs has also been assigned the task to review three bills that seek to replace the British-era criminal laws — Indian Penal Code, 1860, the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898, and the Indian Evidence Act, 1872.
Noting that 554,034 inmates were lodged in prisons across the country against a capacity of 425,069, the committee found out that Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab and Haryana collectively accounted for more than 50% of the total prison population.
The panel also recommended the Centre to create a separate cadre of prison officials for Union territories, with a provision to transfer them regularly, maintaining it as one way to break the prisoner-jailer nexus.
For years, prison experts have been stressing the importance of such a cadre, especially for Delhi jails in the backdrop of rising incidents of nexus between prison officials and inmates.
If a Tihar jail officer, for example, is transferred for alleged collusion in corruption with a criminal gang, they can only be transferred to other jail in the city, such as Rohini or Mandoli jails. Experts opined that the purpose of the transfer in such cases is defeated because the administrative control of the other jails is also in Delhi and the accomplices of the same gang could be lodged in the other two jails.
In recent years there have been many instances of jail officers helping prisoners like alleged conman Sukesh Chandrashekhar or Unitech promoters Sanjay and Ajay Chandra.
“The committee recommends that the Government of India shall create an all-India Jail-Cadre of Union Territories. The jail staff belonging to the UTs needs to be transferred rotationally from one jail of UT to the other,” the standing committee said in its report. “From the replies of the State/UT Governments, the committee has noted that there is no exclusive transfer policy in the state prison departments and recommends that the Government of India may issue periodic advisories to State Governments to have an exclusive transfer policy for their respective prison departments... This will also minimise nexus with local criminals.”
The standing committee has also recommended that women prisoners be allowed to live with their children until the latter attain the age of 12. Currently, prisons across the country allow women inmates to keep their children only till the age of six.
According to Prison Statistic Report 2021, prepared by the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB), there were 1,650 women prisoners with 1,867 children in jails across the country as on December 31, 2021.
On transgender inmates, the committee recommended separate infrastructure facilities for them. “Separate barracks or ward may be ensured for transmen and transwomen. To preserve their right to privacy and dignity, there should also be provision for separate toilets and bathing facilities for such prisoners,” the report added.
According to records, of the 554,034 prison inmates across the country, 531,025 are male, 22,918 female and 91 transgenders.
To be sure, the number of transgender prisoners could be more as most jails do not identify a prisoner as a transgender at the time of admission. Most jails follow practice of lodging transgender prisoners in women’s jail.
The standing committee said that when transgender inmates are brought to prison, a doctor of their choice should be assigned to identify their gender. Prison officials should not be allowed to identify the gender of the inmate, it added.
Listing some of the measures taken by prisons in Assam and Tamil Nadu as “best practices”, the committee said other states could also follow the model adopted by Tamil Nadu where prisoners are allowed to “meet and touch” their family members, which will enable inmates to cope with loneliness and stress.
In prisons such as Tihar jail, inmates are allowed to meet their family members twice a week, but the meetings happen in a room where they are separated by a glass enclosure. The prisoner and their family speak to each other using an intercom device.
The committee also recommended Assam’s “Ashirvad Anusthan” scheme that allows children of convicts to meet their parents physically and take their blessing before going for an interview or examination in school/college. The committee said that because inmates are deprived of contact with their family for a long time, such isolation during incarceration is detrimental to their mental health.
Advocate Ajay Verma, former national convener of the National Forum for Prison Reforms, said: “Transferring prisoners may be a good idea but one has to take into account that most inmates are from lower economic strata of the society. It will be a problem for them to meet their family members if they are shifted from one state to another.”
Verma also hailed the idea to have a separate cadre for prisons, saying it will ensure that professional jail experts are posted in the prison. “Currently, the situation in Delhi is such that a person may be part of any state department, such as education, but she/he is suddenly sent to jail as a superintendent. Having a cadre will also ensure that prison employees have regular promotions to look forward to.”
On the committee’s suggestion to allow women inmates to keep their children for up to 12 years, Verma added, “The government must first ensure that the facility for children who grow up behind bars is robust.”