December 5, 2021

Prison Reforms in India

Once a Prisoner but always a Human Being … lets help make things right .

The Introduction

The Scene in the trailer of Sanjay Dutt Biopic where the protagonist is seen inside the jail cell where a toilet leak floods the cell. well some might say so what he is a criminal this should happen to them and it is much less than what they have done to others.. Let’s think this way nobody is born criminal it’s the circumstance that turn a person into a criminal. Punishing the offenders is the primary function of all civil societies. Prisons are known to have existed throughout the history. Existence of prisons can be traced back to the ancient period. It was believed that rigorous isolation and custodial measures would reform the offenders. Experience, however, this expectation and often imprisonment had the opposite effect.

The Background

‘Prisons’/’persons detained therein’ is a State subject under Entry 4 of List II of the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution of India. Administration and management of prisons is the responsibility of respective State Governments. However, the Ministry of Home Affairs provides regular guidance and advice to States and UTs on various issues concerning prisons and prison inmates.

A well organized system of prisons is known to have existed in India from the earliest time. Brahaspati laid great stress on imprisonment of convicts in closed prisons. However Manu was against this system. It was a common practice to keep the prisoners in solitary confinement so as to afford them an opportunity of self introspection. The object of punishment during Hindu and Mughal period in India was to deter offenders from repeating crime. The British colonial rule in India marked the beginning of penal reforms in this country. The British prison authorities made strenuous efforts to improve the condition of Indian prisons and prisoners. They introduced radical changes in the then existing prison system keeping in view the sentiments of the indigenous people.

The prison administrators who were mostly British officials, classified the prisoners into two heads namely, violent and nonviolent prisoners. The Prison Enquiry Committee appointed by the Government of India in 1836 recommended for the abolition of the practice of prisoners working on roads. Adequate steps were also taken to eradicate corruption among the prisons staff. An official called Inspector General of Prisoners was appointed for the first time in 1855, who was the Chief Administrator of prison in India. His main function was to maintain discipline among the prisoners and the prison authorities.

The second Jail Enquiry Committee in 1862 expressed concern for the insanitary conditions of Indian Prisoners which resulted into death of several prisoners due to illness and disease. It emphasised the need for proper food and clothing for the prison inmates and medical treatment of ailing prisoners. Prisoners Act was enacted to bring uniformity in the working of the prisoners in India. The Act provided for classification of prisoners and the sentences of whipping was abolished. The medical facilities which were already available to prisoners in 1866 were further improved 5 and better amenities were provided to women inmates to protect them against contagious disease.

In 1949 Pakawasha Committee gave the permission to take work from the prisoners in making the roads and for that wages shall be paid. The All India Jails Manual Committee 1957-59 was appointed by the government to prepare a model prison manual .All India Committee on Jail Reforms 1980-83 was constituted by the government of India under the chairmanship of Justice Anand Narain Mulla. The committee suggested setting up of a National Prison Commission as a continuing body to bring about modernization of prisons in India In 1987, the Government of India appointed the Justice Krishna Iyer Committee to undertake a study on the situation of women prisoners in India. It has recommended induction of more women in the police force in view of their special role in tackling women and child offenders.

The Proof of claim

Prevention through communication is the agenda of Norway prison authorities .They have designed more human prisons where prison guard is called as a communication officer .on the other hand India have such conditions that has gave rise to many issues like ,

  • Mental illness-Human mind is something extremely delicate. Which can be traumatized easily, committing a sin is something that no one should forget and punishment must be given but the ways must be different .world health organization states that many people suffer from mental illness and prisons have only added to that number. The detrimental impact of this is seen not only on the individual but on the families also.
  • Poverty-When an income generating person of the family is imprisoned the rest of the family must adjust to this loss of income.
  • Detrimental social impact -people often see the family members as criminal only thus don’t get enough earning opportunities and those who are dependant have to live life if a banishment.
  • Human right- a sentence of life imprisonment deprives a person from his right to liberty.(right to life is a fundamental right under art 21 of the constitutuion)
  • Suicide rate- the average suicide rate in prison is over 50% more than in normal conditions.
  • Pandemic- tin the times of covid -19 , due to overcrowding of the jail it is difficult to follow social distancing and hygine in jails.(bail not jail , it’s the blood sucking mentality of the society that forces the judges to put people in jail and deny bail)
  • Fights – fights between inmates and often prisoners and the jail authorities make the prison environment more volatile and difficult.
  • Juvenile –once put in jail that child is a criminal and once out he is ill prepared to face the society lack of education and ruined future.
  • Prisons in India reregistered the highest occupancy rate in 5 years in 2018.

The existing Prison Act, 1894 which is more than a century old, needs to be thoroughly revised and even re-stated in view of the changed socioeconomic and political conditions of India over the years. Many of the provisions of this Act have become obsolete and redundant.

The Supreme Court, in its landmark decision in Ramamurthy v. State of Karnataka, has identified nine major problems which need immediate attention for implementing prison reforms. The court observed that the present prison system is affected with major problems of;

 a) Overcrowding

 b) Delay in trial

 c) Torture and ill treatment

 d) Neglect of health and hygiene

 e) Insufficient food and inadequate clothing

 f) Prison vices

 g) Deficiency in communication

 h) Streamlining of jail visits and

 i) Management of open air prisons

Measures Taken by government-

  • Modernization of prison scheme
  • E- prison project – Keeping all the information about prisoners on the computer  so as to access the data.
  • Model prison manual
  • Draft national policy on prison reforms and correctional administration
  • National legal service authority web application for under trial prisoners to get free aid.

Apart from this we have seen program like vipassana and meditation yoga spiritual programs are organized to make them see life differently and have faith in themselves.

 Are our prisons a grooming place for criminals?  Mahatma Gandhi said “Prisons should be changed into hospitals to give treatment to offenders, to bring them on the correct line. Officers of the jail should be changed into a doctor. The offenders shall feel that officers of the jail are their friends.”

The Conclusion

Stone walls do not make prison or the iron bar cages; they exist in the mind of people. Prisons and are expected to undertake human engineering, influencing and modifying perceptions, attitude and behavior of those who come into their charge. India is the champion of human rights causes all across the world but the dismal conditions of Indian prisons reflects the paradox that exist in the Indian criminal justice system , prison reforms need to see the bright light of the day along with the judicial system reforms and police and social reforms .


  • Prison Act 1894
  • The Transfer prison act 1950
  • J Mulla commitee
  • J Bobade committee Report on reforms 2018
  • Universal declaration on human rights
  • Study IQ (Youtube dated 12-10-20)
  •  Pakawasha Committee

Author Details: Rupali Naik


Leave a Reply