The original term used for prison is jail or gaol. Prison is
defined as a place properly arranged and equipped for reception of persons
who by legal processes are committed to it for safe custody while awaiting trail
or for punishment.[i] Prison is a place where persons are confined and are
denied various freedoms under the authority of State as punishment.
Section 3 of Prisons Act, 1894 (Act IX of 1894) defines prisons as
Prison means any jail or place used permanently or temporarily under general or
special orders of the State government for the detention of prisoners and
include all lands and buildings appurtenant thereto, but does not include any
place for the confinement of prisoners who are exclusively in the custody of the
Prison is a place where under trails as well as the convict inmates are kept
today. In ancient era, however, the condition was not the same. The prisons were
only for detention of offenders for the period of their trail and not the place
where offenders came for punishment.
During the Mughal period, the prisoners were kept under strict surveillance and
control of authorities. At the time of the takeover of the country by the
Britishers, the prisons in India were in a terrible condition. Finally, Macaulay
initiated the task of shaping the criminal law of India which resulted in Indian
Penal Code (IPC). From then onwards, various jail committees gave certain
recommendations through their reports.
After independence, the subjects of jails, law and order, police and prisons
were placed under state list in the VII schedule of the Constitution of India.
The government of India adopted various measures to achieve further reforms in
W.C. Wreckless, who was an expert of the UNO, was invited to make his
recommendations in 1951. Later on, a committee was also appointed to prepare an
All India Conference of Inspector- Generals of prisons. Government of India
appointed the All India Jail Reforms Committee 1980-1983, whose Chairman was A.N.
Mulla J. which has recommended a draft national policy on jail reforms.
Keeping in view the importance of prisons, a number of laws were passed from
time to time to improve prison condition. In the present administration of
criminal justice, prison is treated as a place for correction where
rehabilitation and reformation of a prisoner are the main aim of imprisonment.
The reforms regarding the children were also undertaken by the government. The
Central Government and the State governments enacted various children’s acts for
the welfare of children.
A new law has been enacted to safeguard the children which is known as Juvenile
Justice (Care and Protection of Children) amendment Act, 2006. The most common
jail institutions which exist in States and Union Territories are known as
Central Jails, District Jails and Sub jails. Other types of jail administration
include women jails, borstal schools, open jails and special jails.
There are a number of positive and negative aspects of prison administration in
India. The Prison administration involves security and discipline. It involves
enforcement of rules and regulations in the management of prison system.
The various recommendations made by the Jail Committee of 1919-1920 paved the
way for abolition of inhuman punishments like treadmill, crank, grinding grain,
short drill, mental breaking etc have been abolished and gradually a trend
developed in the form of enforcement of discipline based on inducements
involving payment of wages for labour rendered, remission of punishment due to
good conduct, creation of facilities like canteens etc.
Besides the physical protection given to prisoners and the elimination of
unnecessary restraints, many other issues regarding the rights of the prisoners
have attracted the attention of courts in India. The Declaration of Human Rights
in 1948 showed its concern for prisoners. The constitutional rights of prisoners
also cover a wide range of rights of personal and political nature including
rights such as pertaining to religion, association, election etc.
The Supreme Court of India has been active in responding to human right
violations in Indian jails and it recognized a number of rights of prisoners by
interpreting Articles 21, 19, 22, 32, 37 and 39 A of the Constitution in a
humane way. The Supreme Court of India in the recent four decades has been very
active against violation of the Human Rights of the prisoners. The Jail Reforms
Committee 1980-1983 has also make recommendations regarding prisoners rights.
It has recommended the incorporation of some rights in proposed scheme of
National Prison legislation like- right to human dignity, right to minimum
needs, right to access to law, right to communication, right against arbitrary
prison punishment, right to meaningful and gainful employment and right to be
released on due date. In present day context, after-care programmes are
It implies all efforts to enable the prisoner to overcome various social,
economic and psychological problems after his release. Under the treatment
philosophy, the after-care work commence as soon as the convict begins his
prison life. At the time of departure, the prisoner is given some money by the
State or his savings, made out of the wages earned in the prison, and a set of
clothes to equip him for the new life. At present, some good work is being done
by a few public societies. In UP, one of the functions of the Crime Prevention
Society is to carry on after-care work through its District Committees.
In India, owing to mass illiteracy, most of the prisoners do not have even
elementary education. Only 33 per cent of male convicts are literate and in case
of women, the percentage is only 12.[ii] Academic education gives a sense of
achievement to the prisoner which goes a long way in exercising corrective
influences. In India, rules in the jail manuals recognize the significance of
religion and religious instruction for the reformation of prisoners. Prisoners
of all communities are offered facilities for their religious observance.
Teachers selected by the District Magistrates deliver lectures on religious and
moral subjects for an hour, once a week. [iii]
Moving on to prison labour and industry, earlier, the emphasis was on hard
unpaid labour. In the reformative approach, prison labour is used not as an end
in itself but as a means to achieve certain skills in prison which shall help
him to earn wages while serving in prison. The Jail Committee of 1980-1983 made
recommendations that state shall endeavour to develop vocational training in
prisons for all who are eligible to work and the payment of fair wages and other
incentives shall be associated with work programs.
In the famous case of Mohd. Giasuddin v State of Andhra Pradesh[iv] the
Court found three years rigorous imprisonment awarded to a well educated
white-collar government employee for the offence of cheating to be inappropriate
and ordered its substitution by 18 months imprisonment along with suitable
mental-cum manual work. Regarding wages, the Court held that unpaid work was
bonded labour and humiliating.
One of the major problems in prison administration these days is overcrowding.
It is common in all States. In 2007, there were total 1140 prisons in country
with authorised capacity of 2,33,543 prisoners whereas prison population was
3,26,543 prisoners which meant 39.80 per cent overcrowding in jails. The worst
crowding was reported in District jails with occupancy rate of 134.7 per cent,
followed by Central Jails 121.2 per cent.[v]
To overcome the problem of overcrowding, Parliament has intervened by
introducing Section 436 in CrPC to overcome this problem to a great extent.
Introduction of plea bargaining can also help reduce the number of prison
population to a large extent. Undertrials are increasing in prisons in large
number. Apart from the problem of overcrowding, rise of under-trial prisoners is
also a concerning issue.
Undertrials are those persons who are under judicial remand. They are the people
whose trial is being awaited but they are in judicial custody and are supposed
to remain there until their sentence is pronounced. The percentage of under
trial and convicted prisoners to the total prisoners in various Indian jails has
been reported as 67.6% and 31.5% respectively in the country in year 2013. In
certain cases they have to live in prison for a longer period than the period of
imprisonment which would be awarded to them if they were found guilty.
A total of 9,842 undertrial prisoners were lodged beyond 3 years and upto 5
years at the end of the year 2013. There were 2,679 such undertrial prisoners in
Uttar Pradesh followed by Bihar (1,243), Punjab (1,023), Rajasthan (599), Delhi
(575), Maharashtra (566) and Jharkhand (564).[vi]
The Prison Statistics India 2015 report was released by National Crime Records
Bureau in October 2016, according to which 67% of people in jails are
undertrials which amounts to over 200,000 undertrial prisoners. In many cases
the undertrial prisoners exceed the maximum sentence for crime which they had
Prisons have come to occupy a central place in the administration of punishment
all over the world. Since then, the philosophy of prison system is continuously
changing. A new feature of prison system us the emergence of open prisons in
many parts of world including India. In India a beginning in the open prison
system was made in 1952 under the inspiration of Dr Sampurnanand when a camp was
opened at Chakia in the Varanasi district of Uttar Pradesh.
The inmates were allowed to work on their own or in local factories and wages
were paid to them. In Dharambir v. State of U.P.[vii], the Supreme Court
supported the institution of open prisons since such prisons had certain
advantages in the context of young offenders who could be protected from some of
the well known vices to which young inmates were subjected to in ordinary jails.
In recent years, the Supreme Court has come down on the sub-human conditions in
prisons. In many States, there are problems of overcrowding, health and hygiene,
increase in number of under trial prisoners etc. which attract the attention of
press and social activists. The Supreme Court constantly reviews the problems in
prisons. It utilised the opportunity in Sunil Batra(2) v. Delhi Admin. [viii]
To emphasise the constitutional and legal rights of prisoners. Whether the
disuse of imprisonment is inevitable or not, but there is no doubt that
imprisonment as a mode of punishment has already been affected adversely to a
significant extent by other methods like probation, parole and work release.
[i] The Oxford English Dictionary Vol. VIII P. 1385.
[ii] Probation and prisons: A statistical analysis 1964-1968, Central Bureau of
[iii] Vidya Bhushan, Prison administration in India,188.
[iv] (1977) 3 SCC 287:1977 SCC (Cri) 496.
[v] National Crime Record Bureau, Prison Statistics 2013, Ministry of Home
Affairs, Governemnt of India, New Delhi, retrieved from www.prisonstudies.org.
[vi] National Crime Record Bureau, Crime in India 2013, p.111.
[vii] (1979) 3SCC 645: 1979 SCC (Cri) 862.
[viii] (1980) 3 SCC 488: 1980 SCC (Cri) 777.
Written by: Roshin Iqbal, B.A.LL.B(hons) 4th year, Jamia Millia Islamia.