Humans in Jails suffer due to overcrowding - Seeker's Thoughts

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Humans in Jails suffer due to overcrowding

Unnatural deaths in prisons, which doubled between 2015 and 2016, from 115 to 231. The rate of suicide among prisoners also increased by 28% from 77 suicides in 2015 to 102 in 2016. 
India has a more than a century-old system of prisons certainly it needs to repair.  Across the globe the data on prison overcrowding is frightening. In parts of Europe, where crime is still low or at acceptable levels, overcrowding is controlled.

 In the U.S., for example, has a larger number of gun violence and a harsh racist overtone in combating crime, the prison system is creaking under the stress of numbers.

Therefore, not only in India but across the globe the numbers are uncontrolled. While public officials and social workers are agreed upon the need to reduce overcrowding, there is hardly any convergence on how to go about this delicate exercise.

The question often asked by governments is, in these days of extreme fiscal stress, why should state resources be diverted to a ‘negative exercise, whose benefits are dubious’?

There are those who believe that if you keep improving prison conditions, there is likely to be an attendant impact on the incidence of crime.

This accounts for the reluctance of many criminal justice administrators to employ or enlarge non-prison alternatives such as community service.

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The offshoot of all this is growing numbers of prisoners and the woeful incapacity of governments to build more and larger prisons.
This is why jail officials are often asked to ‘somehow manage’ with existing modest facilities.

What is the current state of Indian Prisons?

According to the Prison statistics India report 2016, Published by the National Crime Records Bureau in April 2019 went unnoticed.

This edition of the report is different from its earlier versions on account of its omission of certain key demographic data. The report raises a number of red flags signaling the rot in India's prison system.

Who are our prisoners?

The report says at the end of 2016, there were 4,33,033 people in prison; of them, 68% were undertrials or people who have yet to be found guilty of the crimes they are accused of.

India's under-trial population remains among the highest in the world and more than half of all undertrials were detained for less than six months.

The high proportion of undertrials in the overall prison population may be the result of unnecessary arrests and ineffective legal aid during remand hearings.

There are no demographic details- National Crime Bureau's Failure

NCRB failed to include demographic details of religion and the scheduled caste and scheduled Tribe status of prisoners, which are crucial to understanding India's prison population.

This information was consistently published for the last 20 years and instrumental in revealing the problematic overrepresentation of Muslims, Dalits, and Adivasis among under-trials in prisons.

In 2015 Muslims, Dalits and Adivasis accounted for 55% of the under-trial population even though they made up only 50% of the convict population and 38% of the total Indian population.

Another disturbing point is the rise in the number of people held under administrative (or 'prevention') detention laws in Jammu and Kashmir (a 300% increase), with 431 detainees in 2016, compared to 90 in 2015. Administrative, or 'preventive', detention is used by authorities in J&K and other States to unfairly persons without charge or trials.

The number of prisoners eligible to be released and actually released, under Section 436A of the code of Criminal procedure, which allows under trials to be released on a personal bond if they have faced if convicted.

In 2016, out of 1,557 under trials found eligible for release under Section 436A, only 929 were released. Research by Amnesty India has found that prison officials are frequently unaware of this section and unwilling to apply it.

In 2017, the law commission of India had recommended that undertrials who have completed a third of their maximum sentence for offenses attracting up to seven years of imprisonment be released on bail.

Perhaps the NCRB should consider including the number of such undertrials in its upcoming report for informing the policy on the use of undertrial detention.

Mental Health Issues and Concerns

Unnatural deaths in prisons, which doubled between 2015 and 2016, from 115 to 231. The rate of suicide among prisoners also increased by 28% from 77 suicides in 2015 to 102 in 2016.

The National Human Rights Commission in 2014 had stated that on average, a person is one-and-a-half times more likely to commit suicide in prison than outside, which is an indicator perhaps of the magnitude of mental health concerns within prisons.

Shockingly 6,013 individuals with mental illness were in jail in 2016. It does not provide information on whether these prisoners were diagnosed with mental illness before entering prison, making it difficult to determine whether prison conditions worsened their plight.

The report states that there was only one mental health professional for every 21,650 prisoners in 2016, with only six States and one Union Territory having psychologists/psychiatrists.

Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, and Madhya Pradesh, the three states with the most prisoners with mental illness, did not have a single psychologist or psychiatrist.

Data about Prisons in India

In India, the publication, Prison Statistics India, brought out by the National Crime Records Bureau will provide food for thought for the Justice Roy Committee.
In 2015, there were nearly 4.2 lakh inmates in 1,401 facilities, with an average occupancy rate of 114% in most.

Under- Trail and higher than International Standards
-About 67% of total inmates were under- trials, a commentary on the speed and efficiency of India’s criminal justice system.

-Occupancy by undertrials– 67% of the people in Indian jails are under trials which is extremely high by international standards like it is 11% in UK 20% in the US and 29% in France.

Read - Rising population of humans

 A higher number of Males
Males at 400,855 make up 95.8% of prisoners while females at 17,681 represent 4.2%.

Many inmates are unaware of their rights and cannot afford legal aid, limited ability to communicate with lawyers from within the jail premises hampers their ability to defend themselves.

 For poor and marginalized it is also difficult to get bail which leaves them no option but to stay in jails and wait for courts final order.
Over  60 percent of arrests were unnecessary accounted for 3 percent cent of jail expenditure.

Read Also....  The dying glaciers

Prison Reforms are not coming for Implementation:

Handling white collar crime

There is a popular view that in order to reduce prison populations, proven non-violent offenders could be dealt with differently.

White collar crime has assumed monstrous proportions but there is no reason why we should continue to lock up offenders instead of merely depriving them of their illegal gains.
Devising swift processes of attachment of properties and freezing of bank accounts are alternatives to a jail term.

The argument that not all gains made by an economic offender are open is not convincing enough to opt for incarceration over punitive material penalties.

In India, progress has been made in freezing ‘benami’ holdings of major offenders even though it may not be a 100% effective step of cleaning up.

But these are the first steps towards making economic crimes unaffordable and unattractive for the average offender.

 The Supreme Court and Committee on Prison Reforms

 Supreme Court, formed a committee on prison reforms due to disturbing reports about prisons.  It was headed by former Supreme Court judge, Justice Amitava Roy. 

But this is not the first time that such a body is being set up, examples being the Justice A.N. Mulla committee and the Justice Krishna Iyer committee on women prisoners (both in the 1980s).

While marginal reforms have taken place, these have not been enough to ensure that prison conditions are in tune with human rights norms.
Prison officials and political will

Another complaint against prisons is the brutality and venality of prison officials, again common across the world. A solution will be a point to ponder over for the Justice Roy Committee. Improving prison conditions has no political leverage. 

Just as humane prisons do not win votes, the bad ones do not lose votes for any political party as long as there are no stakes here for lawmakers, one can hardly hope for model prisons, where inmates are accommodated with due regard to their basic human needs and are handled with dignity.

Packed to the gills in jails:

The data on prison overcrowding is frightening. Except in parts of Europe, where crime is still low or at acceptable levels, overcrowding is rampant. In the U.S., for example, which has a humongous crime problem, complicated by gun violence and a strident racist overtone in combating crime, the prison system is creaking under the stress of numbers. 

There is obvious poverty of ideas in justice administration. While public officials and social workers are agreed upon the need to reduce overcrowding, there is hardly any convergence on how to go about this delicate exercise.
Prisons in European

European countries like Germany and the Netherlands focused on the ultimate goal of rehabilitating prisoners. Germany's prison Act even states "the sole aim of incarceration is to enable prisoners to lead social life and responsibility free of crime upon release.

Prisoners live in rooms and sleep in beds, not on concrete or steel slabs with thin padding. They get privacy – they wear their own clothes and can decorate their space as they wish. They cook their own meals, and paid for work that they do, and have opportunities to visit family, learn skills and gain an education.
Indeed, the German and Dutch corrections systems are so committed to keeping inmates engaged in their communities that prisoners retain their right to vote during their sentences and many offenders are given the option of spending weekends at home with their families.
Staffing in European prisons is composed of largely of social workers, mental health professionals, and attorneys.
Even when criminals are sentenced to prison, they don’t always go. German courts typically suspend all custodial sentences of fewer than two years, amounting to a de facto term of probation.


All prisoners shall be treated with the respect due to their inherent dignity and value as human beings. 

There shall be no discrimination on the grounds of race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinions, national or social origin, property, birth or another status.

It is, however, desirable to respect the religious beliefs and cultural precepts of the group to which prisoners belong, whenever local conditions so require. 
The responsibility of prisons for the custody of prisoners and for the protection of society against crime shall be discharged in keeping with a State's other social objectives and its fundamental responsibilities for promoting the well-being and development of all members of society.
 Except for those limitations that are demonstrably necessitated by the fact of incarceration, all prisoners shall retain the human rights and fundamental freedoms set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and, where the State concerned is a party, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Optional Protocol thereto, as well as such other rights as are set out in other United Nations covenants.

All prisoners shall have the right to take part in cultural activities and education aimed at the full development of the human personality.  Efforts addressed to the abolition of solitary confinement as a punishment, or to the restriction of its use, should be undertaken and encouraged. 
Conditions shall be created enabling prisoners to undertake meaningful remunerated employment which will facilitate their reintegration into the country's labor market and permit them to contribute to their own financial support and to that of their families.
Prisoners shall have access to the health services available in the country without discrimination on the grounds of their legal situation. 

With the participation and help of the community and social institutions, and with due regard to the interests of victims, favorable conditions shall be created for the reintegration of the ex-prisoner into society under the best possible conditions.

More than a century old system of prisons in India needs urgent attention where prisoners can receive the basic facilities. 

Overcrowding, number of undertrials than convicted prisoners, delayed justice, inhumane conditions, brutality and lack of basic human need facilities are some of the major issues in Indian prisons.

Justice Amitava Roy committee is a ray of hope in the direction of prison reforms, but without political reforms in India’s criminal justice system are impossible.