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Rights of Prisoners in India

The law on the rights of the prisoners has been an evolving one. There is no comprehensive legislation to deal with prisoners rights and regulate their conduct while in jail. However, the Judiciary of the country has given due recognition to the convicts and their fundamental rights time and time again. In the absence of thorough legislation, it has managed to set precedents and principles upholding the various rights of the prisoners that not only guide but also bind all the courts in India.

The main objective of prisons is to bring the offenders back to the mainstream of the society. If a person commits any crime, it does not mean that by committing crime, he ceases to be a human being and that he can deprive off those aspects of life which constitutes human dignity. He still remains a human who should be treated like one. He should be given the basic human rights available to every man walking on the earth. But at the same time, he should not be treated as a free man with all absolute rights and luxuries. His freedom should be subject to certain limitations and legal restrictions. These restrictions, in addition, should be reasonable.

The apex court of the USA in the case of Charles Wolff v. McDonnell and the Supreme Court of India in its famous cases like DBM Patnaik v. State of Andhra Pradesh and, Sunil Batra v. Delhi Administration has emphatically stated that it must be realised that a prisoner is a human being as well as a natural person or a legal person. If a person gets convicted for a crime, it does not reduce him to the status of a non-person whose rights could be snatched away at the whims of the prison administration.

The Supreme court of India has been deliberating with the central and state governments since a long time to improve the deteriorating condition of the prisoners which is fundamental because of the overcrowding of prisons, lack of training facilities, personnel and poor infrastructure, etc. Therefore, it is mandatory to invoke the rights and constitutional safeguards of the prisoners. Such rights of, unless they are propagated and implemented in each corner and the entire perimeter of the prism, are a nullity and betrayal of human faith on the criminal justice delivery system.

Legal Framework In International Scenario

International Human Rights Law
International Human Rights Law protect from various inequalities like racism, discrimination among poor and elite group of people, torture. According to them, no person shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Clothing is considered as a component to an adequate standard of living standard. There should be a proper hygiene system where prisons live. All prisoners shall be offered a proper medical examination and treatment as soon as possible after admission. They also recognize the rights of specific groups of people, including women, children and for disable peoples.

UN Charter
Basic principles for the betterment and good treatment of prisoners was adopted and was officially announced by General Assembly revolution on December 14, 1990.The principles are as follows

  • Prisoners shall be treated with inherent dignity and valued as human beings.
  • No discrimination on the grounds of race, sex, colour, language, religion, political,
  • national, social origin, property, birth, or other status. Respect the religious beliefs and cultural percepts of the group to which the prisoners belong.
  • The responsibility of the prisons for the custody of prisoners and for the protection of the· society against crime and its fundamental responsibilities for promoting the well-being and development of all members of the society.
  • All prisoners shall retain the human rights and fundamental freedoms set out in UDHR, ICESCR, ICCPR and the optional protocol as well as such other rights are set out under in other United Nations covenants.

UN Core Conventions And Specific Instruments
In 1955, Amnesty International prepared certain rules and regulations for the betterment of the prisoners.

Some important relevant rules are:

  • Perception of equality should be there. There should be no discrimination on grounds of sex, race, colour, religion. Political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status among prisoners.
  • Men and women must be kept in a separate institutions.
  • There should be a separation of the prisoners for the civil and criminal offence.
  • Prohibition of cruel inhuman degrading punishments, otherwise it will lead to severe punishment.
  • Availability of at least one qualified medical officer with knowledge of psychiatry.

Article 5 of Universal Decleration of Human Rights proclaims that:
No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."

Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966 creates an obligation for the State parties to it that:
No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, in human or degrading treatment or punishment."

Legal Framework In Indian Scenario

Fundamental rights form the core of human rights in India. All the human beings have their own fundamental rights. Likewise prisoners also entitled to some extent of their fundamental rights. The Supreme Court of India has reiterated the Principle "imprisonment does not spell farewell to fundamental rights". Thus the court has cordially declared that for a prisoner the fundamental rights are enforceable reality, though restricted by the fact of imprisonment.

Article 14
Article 14 of the Constitution of India says that the state shall not deny to any person equality before law or the equal protection of laws within the territory of India. Thus, Article 14 contemplated that like should be treated alike and also provided the concept of reasonable classification. This Article is very useful guide and basis for the prison authorities to determine various categories of prisoners and their classifications with the object of reformation.

Article 19
Article 19 of the Constitution Of India guarantees six freedoms to the all citizens of India which are as follows:

  • Freedom of speech and expression
  • Freedom to assemble peacefully without arms
  • Freedom to form associations or unions
  • Freedom to move throughout the territory of India
  • Freedom to reside and settle in any part of the territory of India
  • Freedom to practice any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business.

Among these freedoms, certain freedoms except the 'Freedom of speech and expression' and 'Freedom to become member of an association' cannot be enjoyed by the prisoners because of the very nature of these freedoms.

Article 21
Article 21 of the Constitution of India says that No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established by the law.
This Article stipulates two concepts i.e., right to life and personal liberty.

By Article 21 of the Indian Constitution it is clear that its is available not only for free people but also those people behind the prison.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court has repeatedly applied the rule of Article 21 in numerous cases. in the much-known case of Kharak Singh v. State of UP. In the said case, the court ruled that the term “life” connotes more than mere existence like that of an animal. It can be said that right to live is not restricted to a mere animal existence. It connotes something more than just the physical survival of a being.

Right To Priacy

The Right to Privacy is one of the very significant rights available to the citizens of India. They form an intrinsic part of Right to Life and Personal Liberty under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. They have also been made applicable to the prisoners and convicts through various judgements passed by courts over the years The right to privacy in respect to search and seizure was first raised in the 1950s, where the apex court ruled that search and seizure cannot be seen as violative of Article 19 (1)(f) of the Indian constitution and a mere search by itself does not nullify or harm an individual’s right to property.

The concept of right to privacy has evolved over the years. In recent time, its scope has been widened to benefit people in the most possible way.

In the case of Rohit Shekha v. N.D Tiwari, the court held that nobody should be compelled to be subjected to any techniques in question at any circumstances, even when it is in the context of an investigation in a criminal case. Proceeding with such acts would result in an unwarranted intrusion into an individual’s personal liberty.

Right to Privacy of prisoners and their spouses
In Rahmath Nisha v. Additional Director General of Prisoner and Others, the accused was given 10 days leave to visit his wife. But, due to serious illness, his wife was transferred to the hospital in ICU by the time he reached home. However, the police escort that accompanied the accused refused to let him visit the hospital citing that permission has been granted to visit home only. The Madras Court held that the prisoner should be allowed to visit his wife in hospital and that the meeting between him and his wife should not be monitored.

Right Against Solitary Confinement And Bar Fetters'

Solitary confinement is a kind of imprisonment in which the convict or prisoner is kept in a different cell with little or no contact from other inmates. The idea behind solitary confinement is to teach notorious convicts discipline and provide safety to other inmates from them.

The validity of solitary confinement was considered by the Supreme Court in the famous case of Sunil Batra v. Delhi Administration wherein the honourable court highlighted that imposition of solitary confinement is only to be made in exceptional cases where the prisoner is of such violent or dangerous nature that his segregation becomes an utmost necessity.

The court also observed that keeping prisoners in bar fetters day and night reduces them to the level of an animal and deteriorates their mental health. The courts, therefore, have presented strong resentment against solitary and stated its confinement as highly dehumanizing and derogatory in nature. They have also held such confinements to be against the spirit of the Constitution of India.

Right To Lie With Human Dignity

The right of a human being to live with dignity is protected by the constitution. This right is also given to the prisoners as their mere conviction does not render them inhuman. This right forms a significant part of right to life guaranteed under the constitution of India. The idea behind is that every person’s life is precious and irrespective of the circumstances, he should be given a sense of dignity to help him continue living. The courts have enlarged the scope of Article 21 to include this right.

In the case of Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, the apex court propounded a new dimension of Article 21 wherein it stated that “right to life or live” does not confine itself to mere physical existence but also includes right to live with human dignity.

Further, in Francis Coralie v. Delhi Administration, while expanding the aforementioned concept, the court held that the word ‘life’ includes everything that it goes along with it, namely the bare necessaries of the life such as adequate nutrition and food, clothing and shelter over one’s head, facilities for reading, writing (education), ability and opportunity of expressing oneself in diverse forms, moving freely, mixing and commingling with fellow human beings.

Thereafter, the apex court in Pandit Parmanand v. Union of India expanded the concept of “life” and ruled that the word “life” is not just limited up to the period of death but even after that. Therefore, when a person was executed with the death penalty (as in this case) but the dead body was not lowered even after half an hour, in spite of the fact that the doctor already gave the death certificate, the court held that it amounted to a violation of Right to life under Article 21. It can be concluded that Right to live continues even after death and includes in its ambit the right to proper handling of the dead body or right to a decent burial.

Right To Legal Aid

Legal assistance plays a significant part in the life of an accused awaiting trial or any prisoner or convicts, for that matter. The 42nd Amendment to the Constitution (1976) of India incorporated services of free legal aid as Article 39A under the head Directive Principles of State Policy. Though this Article is part of the directive principles of state policy and hence, not enforceable, the principles underlined therein are of utmost importance.

The parliament has enacted the Legal Services Authorities Act in 1987 wherein it guaranteed legal Aid. It also directed various state governments to set up Legal Aid and Advice Boards, and frame schemes aiming to provide Free Legal Aid. This was done so that the Constitutional mandate of Article 39-A could be given an effect.

Justice Krishna Iyer emphatically declared that “Right to free legal aid is the State‘s duty and not Government’s charity”.

Right To Speedy Trial

It is very well said that justice delayed is justice denied. Every prisoner has a right to a speedy trial irrespective of the crime he is convicted of. Speedy trial is considered as an integral part of the criminal justice delivery system. Once a person is accused, he must be subject to speedy trials so as to punish him from the crime he committed or absolve him from it, if not proven guilty. No one should be subject to long, pending and tiresome trials as it not only violates the rights of an individual but is considered to be the denial of justice altogether. The right to a speedy trial, therefore, has become a universally recognized human right. Moreover, the right to a speedy trial is also contained under Section 309 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

In the leading landmark case HUSSAINARA KHATOON V. HOME SECRETARY, STATE OF BIHAR, it was held that speedy trial of a accused is his fundamental right under Article 21. If any person who denied his right to speedy trial can directly go to Supreme Court under Article 32 for enforcing such rights.

Right To Health And Medical Treatment

Right to health is an important right. The Constitution of India incorporates provisions guaranteeing every individual the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. In a series of judgements, the highest court of the land has held that the right to health care is a crucial element of Article 21.

The Gujarat High Court in Rasikbhai Ramsing Rana v. State of Gujarat held that the right to medical treatment is one of the basic human rights that should be made available to every person. The court further guided the concerned jail authorities to take proper mental and physical health care of the prisoners which were suffering from any type of disease.

The same court, in a suo moto writ, issued guidelines to the Central government to equip all Central and District jails with facilities such as ICCU, pathology lab, proficient doctors, sufficient staff including nurses and latest instruments for medical treatment.

Narco Analysis/Brain Mapping/Polygraph

In the case of Seli.State Of Karnataka (2010 right To Reasonable Wages), the Supreme Court has deemed methods such as narco-analysis, polygraph test and brain mapping as unconstitutional, thereby violating human rights.

They were marked as a detriment to the accused person's psyche, thereby interfering with the rights to protection of a person. The Supreme Court acknowledged that the tests oppose Article 20(3), which mentions that an individual cannot be compelled to provide proof against himself.

Right To Reasonable Wages

Whenever during the imprisonment, the prisoners are made to work in the prison, they must be paid at the reasonable rate. The wage rate should not trival or below minimum wages.

In Mohammad Giasuddin . State Of A.P., the court directed the State to take into account this factor, while finalizing the rules for payment of wages to prisoners as well as to give retrospective effect to wage policy.

In the matter of P.R.E. of Wages of Prisoners, the court has held that labour taken from the prisoners, which has not properly remunerated was “forced labour” and hence violative of Article 23 of the constitution.

Right To Meet Friends And Consult Lawyer

Prisoners are not only protected physically but also mentally. It is necessary for individuals to meet for the purpose of information, it’s people’s right. Consult lawyers are their legal representatives, the act done by them directly affects the convict’s case. Visiting of friends and family members give them mental stability to survive in such a worst condition where people are unknown to each other.

In Francis Coralie Mullin . The Administrator, Union Territory Of Delhi And Others, the Supreme Court held that prisoners can have interview with family members, friends and lawyers without any severe restrictions, and allowed to go outside the jail and could not socialize with persons outside jail.

Right Against Inhuman Treatment

It is the right of every prisoner to be protected against any type of cruel or inhuman treatment. The Supreme Court of India in several cases has highlighted the harsh treatments faced by prisoners and directed state and prison authorities to check and regulate the same. The court also prohibited the use of instruments such as handcuffs, chains, irons and straitjackets in punishing the prisoners. Some other instruments of restraint are permissible but only under certain circumstances.

These circumstances are mentioned hereunder:

  1. Using instruments of restraint for precaution during the transfer of prisoners against escape, conditional upon the fact that it shall be removed while producing the prisoner before an administrative or judicial body.
  2. If the medical officer permits the same on certain medical grounds;
  3. In cases wherein it is difficult to prevent a prisoner from self-harm or damaging the property around, the director in consultation with the medical officer and after reporting the higher administrative authority may order the prisoner to be put in instruments of restraint.

The patterns and manner of use of instruments of restraint shall be decided by the central prison administration. Such instruments must not be applied for any longer time than is strictly necessary.

In Sunil Gupta v. the State of MP, the petitioners had voluntarily surrendered themselves. They even refused to bail out and decided to stay in prison for the cause of public good. Even though they were put in handcuffs and taken to court by the escort party. The court expressed that the act done by the escort party was inhuman in nature and violative of Article 21 of the Constitution. The court also directed the government to take immediate and appropriate action against the defaulting escort part for having acted unjustly and unreasonably in handcuffing the prisoners.

Right To Education

Right to education is a Fundamental Right and therefore it should be given to every citizen of the country. Along with education, it is compulsory that the right type of education should be imparted.

In Mohammad Giasuddin v. State of AP, the court tried to regulate the manner of work and education provided to the inmates of the jail. It directed the state government to look into the nature of work and education given to the prisoners and check that the work provided is “not of a monotonous, mechanical, intellectual or like type mixed with a title manual labour…”.

Moreover, basic learning such as tailoring, embroidery, doll-making should be extended to the women prisoners. In addition to that, the well-educated prisoners should be given the opportunities to engage in some sort of mental-cum-manual productive work.

Right To Receive Books/Magazines/Publication

In State of Maharashtra v. Prabhakar Pandurang Sanzgir wherein an accused detained under preventive detention was not allowed to hand over his unpublished book to his wife for publication, the court termed such an act as violative of Article 21.

In yet another case of Rajgopal v. State of Tamil Nadu, the Supreme Court held that there was no authority in law that could priorly deny the permission to publish the autobiography of Auto Shanker (prisoner) under the fear or impression that it would cause defamation of prominent IAS and IPS officers. The concerned officials can take action after the publication and only if the publications are false.

Rights Of Prisoners In India Under The Prisons Act, 1894

Prisons Act of 1894 is the first legislation regarding prison regulation in India. This Act mainly focuses on the reformation of prisoners in connection with the rights of the prisoners.

Following Sections of the Prisons Act, 1894 are related to the reformation of the prisoners.

  • Accommodation and sanitary conditions for prisoners
  • Provision for the shelter and safe custody of the excess number of prisoners who cannot be safely kept in any prison
  • Provisions relating to the examination of the prisoners by qualified Medical Officer.
  • Provisions relating to separation of prisoners, containing female and male prisoners, civil and criminal prisoners and convicted and under-trial prisoners.
  • Provisions relating to the treatment of under-trials, civil prisoners, parole and temporary release of prisoners.

In the year of 2016, The Parliament has passed the Prisons (Amendment) Bill, 2016 to amend the Prisons Act, 1894 with a view to providing protection and welfare of the prisoners.

The Prisoners Act, 1990

It is the duty of the government for the removal of any prisoner detained under any order or sentence of any court, which is of unsound mind to a lunatic asylum and other place where he will be given proper treatment.

The Transfer Of Prisoners Act, 1950

This act was passed to avoid over-population in prisons, prisoners are transferred from one state to another for vocational training and to get rid from overcrowding.

The days are gone when prisons were dungeons where prisoners were lodged to pass their days in dark cells. The prisons are no more the institutions designed to achieve only the retributive and deterrent aspects of punishment. Prisons are now the places, where the inmates are lodged not as a forgotten or forsaking members of the society but as human beings who have to go out in to their surroundings as well behaving as reformed persons.

For a prisoner, the imprisonment itself is a punishment and thus, prisons are expected to be places of rehabilitation, not places where extra punishment is added resulting into the violation of their human rights.

The judiciary of the country has played a crucial role in safeguarding the rights of prisoners whenever the legislative and executive have erred. It has acted as the saviour of the convicts and upheld their fundamental rights time and time again. It has thoroughly exercised its powers through judicial activism and has repeatedly devised new remedies and tools to protect the human’s right to life and personal liberty. Written By: Damini Singh Chauhan - BA-LLB ( The law School, University of Jammu) LLM( Jindal Global Law School)  

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