Q) “The humane thread of jail jurisprudence that runs right through is that no prison authority enjoys amnesty for unconstitutionality. And forced farewell to fundamental rights is an institutional outrage in our system where stone walls and iron bars shall bow before the rule of law”. In the light of the above statement, critically examine the need for prison reforms in India.

Why this Question?

Issue of current importance.

Key demand of the Question 

Discuss why there is a need for prison reforms and mention some key reforms that are needed.


Critically examine – When asked to ‘Examine’, we have to look into the topic (content words) in detail, inspect it, investigate it and establish the key facts and issues related to the topic in question. While doing so we should explain why these facts and issues are important and their implications. When ‘critically’ is suffixed or prefixed to a directive, one needs to look at the good and bad of the topic and give a fair judgment.


Start with a context of the question.


In the first part, discuss the need for prison reforms in the country.

In the next part, suggest remedial measures to improve the condition of prisons in India. Substantiate the answer with recommendations of the Supreme Court Panel. 


Conclude with a way forward.

Model Answer

National Crime Records Bureau’s 2019 data says there are 1350 functional jails in India, with a total capacity of approximately 4 lakh prisoners but actual strength exceeds 4.78lakh. This situation highlights the need for prison reforms in India. Prison reforms are an important part of criminal justice reforms that include police reforms and reforms in the judicial system and judiciary. Challenges faced by Indian prisons include overcrowding, understaffing and underfunding.

Problems faced by prisoners in India

  1. 4.3% of the total prisoners in India are women and 69.05% (approx. 3.3 lakh) were under trials and only 30.11% were convicted for crime.
  2. Under trials lose their fundamental rights: the right to liberty, freedom of movement, freedom of occupation, and freedom of dignity, and also the legal right to vote.
  3. The prisons in India are working with the age old infrastructure that is not complacent with the present day needs.
  4. Those in the prison especially the undertrials who lose their contact with families are more prone to Mental and psychological disorders and sometimes committing suicide.
  5. The treatment with those in the prisons is against The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which India is a signatory. 
  6. The Prison Department has a perennial average vacancy of 30%-40%. This hinders implementation of Model Prison Manual and various jail reforms.
  7. The kitchens are congested and unhygienic and the diet has remained unchanged for years now.

In this context, the Supreme Court formed a committee on prison reforms.  Headed by former Supreme Court judge, Justice Amitava Roy, it looked into the entire gamut of reforms to the prison system. It recommended the following:

  1. Speedy trials, Fast track courts, decreasing the lawyer to prisoners ratio, and avoiding frequent adjournments in a case to solve the problem of overcrowding in prisons. 
  2. Accommodative transition for prisoners allowing them a free phone call to their family, use of ICT for trials through videoconferencing, effective legal aid, and discretionary power to the courts to have alternative methods of punishment like fine and admonition.
  3. Authorities to fast track the process of appointments of prison staff and increase the number of appointments as per the requirements. 
  4. Use of modern cooking facilities and canteens to buy essential items. 

Other than these, there should also be steps taken to revamp the prison infrastructure, making them reform homes, providing means of recreation to the prisoners, separate prisons for women, special attention to the problems of prisoners from the LGBTQ community, etc.

India is seen as a champion of human rights causes across the world but the state of Indian prisons reflects a paradoxical situation. Therefore, to ensure that India does not violate the basic human rights of its people, prison reforms must see the light of the day.