December 2, 2020

Rights of Prisoners


This article majorly deals with the rights of prisoners available in the lights of Indian laws, its evolution and various case laws. The torture which a prisoner suffers not only physical but also mental during his tenure in prison and how conviction of a person leads to an inhuman treatment, how conviction of a person degrades his living standards up to an animal are discussed in this article.

Prisoner is a person who is detained behind bars or is deprived of his liberty against his wishes by virtue of court’s order for the reason of commitment of certain acts prohibited by law of land. It cannot be denied that conviction of one person doesn’t make that person a non-person and he shall not be deprived of the basic human rights no matter what the crime is.

Evolution of Prison Rights

The concept of imprisonment lies back from ancient time and has gone through various drastic changes till now. The concept of punishment can be seen in the verses of Gita, philosophy of Muhammad, Vedas and other ancient religious documents. Kautilya’s Arthashastra gives a description of prison and points out that one person shall be released every 5th day on payment of certain fine. But the inhuman condition of the prison cannot be denied at the ancient time whipping of prisoners, their execution were the rigorous punishment and imprisonment was considered normal.

Later on, Ashoka bought in various reforms in prison life after he accepted Buddhism. but the major changes in prisoners’ rights were bought in after post-independence era. Where the approach for prison changed from detention to reformative and rehabilitation.

Indian Laws Regarding Rights of Prisoners

There is no hard codification of the rights of the prisoners in India but the Indian judiciary with various judgement has identified and interpreted various rights which are available to the prisoners. Due to the non-codification of laws and absence of proper legislation the prisoners are not aware of their rights or procedure thereof.

V.R. Krishna Iyer (J) has rightly observed: “In our world prisons are still laboratories of torture, warehouses in which human commodities are sadistically kept and where spectrums of inmates range from drift-wood juveniles to heroic dissenters[i]

With various drastic changes in the society various committee were form to establish and clear the air on the rights available to prisoners some of the rights available to prisoners are discussed here.

Fundamental right available to prisoner

As discussed already conviction of one person doesn’t make him a non-person. Fundamental rights are the basic rights of citizen of the country and cannot be taken away under any circumstances until provided by law and procedure established by law. The Indian law guarantees prisoners certain fundamental rights such as rights available under article 14, 19, and 21. Certain rights under article 19 of the Indian constitution are not available to the prisoners due to the very nature of the rights. In the case of state of Andhra Pradesh vs. challa Ramkrishna Reddy it was held that a prisoner is entitled to fundamental rights unless curtailed by constitution.[ii]

Article 21 deals with right to life and personal liberty whereby the hon’ble supreme court has interpreted the human rights jurisprudence for the preservation and protection of prisoners right to maintain human dignity. [iii]

The Hon’ble Supreme Court has adopted annotation of Article 21 and expanded connotation of “life” given by Field J. that “life means more than mere animal existence. The inhibition against its deprivation extends to all those limbs and faculties by which life is enjoyed. The provision equally prohibits the mutilation of the body by the amputation of an arm or leg, or the putting out of an eye or the destruction, of any other organ of the body through which the soul communicates with the other world.” Right to live is not restricted to mere animal existence. It means something more than just physical survival. As regards to these provisions hon’ble supreme court has laid down various precedent in regards to the in human treatment given to the prisoners.

In the cases like Maneka Gandhi, Hussainara khatoon, Sunil Batra hon’ble court widen the scope of article 21 and stated rights like right to go to abroad, right to speedy trial, right to meet family and friends as some of the rights covered under article 21 not specifically mentioned but included in it[iv].

Right available against solitary confinement and bar fetters.

The right against solitary confinement was highlighted in the case of Sunil Batra v. Delhi administration where by the hon’ble court held that the imposition of solitary confinement can only be made in exceptional cases where the prisoner of such violent or dangerous nature that segregation is necessary.[v] Court also observed that keeping prisoners in bar fetters day and night reduce him to animal and is mentally detrimental to him.

Right against inhuman behaviour and torture

In the case of DK Basu the supreme court of India observed the problem of custodial torture and issued various guideline to deal with such heinous torture in custody.[vi]In the Raghubir Singh v. State of Bihar, the Supreme Court expressed its anguish over police torture by upholding the life sentence awarded to a police officer responsible for the death of a suspect due to torture in a police lock – up.[vii] In Kishore Singh VS. State of Rajasthan the Supreme Court held that the use of third-degree method by police is violative of Article 21.[viii]

Right to speedy trial

Delay in justice is justice denied. An accused is not guilty until proven guilty. The Indian judiciary known for its long judicial process many times leads to torture of accused not even guilty. Delay in granting bail, torture in custody all, these things give rise to need of speedy trial. Even speedy trial is a well-known human right in many countries. In case of AR.Antulay vs. R.S Nayak the hon’ble court held that the right of speedy trial is available to a person in all the stages of investigation, inquiry, trial, appeal etc.[ix]

Right to have interview with friends, family, relatives, and lawyers

Article 22 of the Indian constitution deals with the right of a prisoner to be presented by a legal practitioner and right to be informed about the charges he has been detained under. the Indian courts in various cases has improved the scope of such right available. In the case of Hussainara khatoon vs. Home Secretary Bihar, the supreme court held that it is constitutional right of an accused to be presented by a lawyer or to say have legal aid if by any reasons the accused is unable to get legal aid then it’s the responsibility of the state to provide such services to the client.[x]

The right to represented by a legal practitioner is not only available for criminal proceeding but also to the detune detained under the preventive dentition Act.

There are various other rights which are available to a prisoner which are listed bellow

  • Right against handcuffing
  • Right to bail during the pendency of appeal
  • Right to release on due date
  • Right to education
  • Right to reasonable wage for work.

Prisoner’s right under prisoner’s Act 1894.

Prisons Act, of 1894 is the first legislation regarding prison regulation in India. This Act mainly focus on reformation of prisoners in connection with the rights of prisoners. Following Sections of the Prisons Act, 1894 are related with the reformation of 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 prisoners by qualified Medical Officer,
  • Provisions relating to separation of prisoners, containing female and male prisoners, civil and criminal prisoners and convicted and undertrial prisoners,
  • Provisions relating to treatment of undertrials, civil prisoners, parole and temporary release of prisoners.[xi]

Prisoners Act 1990

This Act spoke about the lunatic prisoners and their rehabilitation in asylum or any other place where proper treatment can be the case of Hiralal Mallick vs. state of Bihar in this case the court stressed on the rehabilitation of the prisoners.[xii]

International laws on prisoners’ rights

There are many conventions and international treaties establishing rights for prisoner some of which are listed below.

  • International convention on civil and political rights
  • United nations rules for the treatment of prisoners
  • European committee for the prevention of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
  • International bills of rights


Conviction of one person for an offence does not make him an animal. For the protection of law and order in the society it is very essential to punish the wrong doer and sometimes it becomes essential to segregate them from society but and debar them enjoy certain rights. But in no case all the rights shall be curtailed but can be subjected to certain restrictions.


[ii](2000)5 SCC 712
[v]AIR 1978,SCC,1675
[vi] 1997 1 SCC 416
[vii]1987 AIR 149
[viii]AIR 1954 RAJ 264
[ix] (1992) 1 SCC 225
[x]AIR 1981,SCC 746
[xii]AIR 1977 SCC 2237

Author Details: Kajal Jain (3rd year student, K.L.E Society’s Law College, Bengaluru).

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