Supreme Court committee on prison reforms: Issues and way out

Justice Amitava Roy Committee, a three-member panel, on prison reforms was constituted by the Supreme Court in 2018. . On August 29, the Supreme Court sought the views of the Centre and the states on the report of the committee.

Highlighting the issues faced by women and children, transgender prisoners, and death-row convicts, the report dwells on how Women, who are 4.2 percent of the prison population in 2019, in incarceration suffered the most imprisonment; but only 18 percent of them were allotted exclusive women’s prison facilities. whether they are undertrials or convicts,all categories of female prisoners are lodged together. Less than 40 per cent of the prisons provide sanitary napkins. Moreover, 75% of female wards in prisons have to share kitchens and common facilities with male wards.

Only jails in Goa, Delhi, and Puducherry allow meetings with children without bars or glass separation.

Highlighting the issue of overcrowding in the prison the report says that as of November 30, 2018, the occupancy rate of jails stood at 122 percent. Expanding the open and semi-open prison system has been suggested to reduce overcrowding.

another viable option was suggested to replace imprisonment for petty offences with community service. It also recommends Speedy trials for undertrials : (i) special fast track courts to be set up to extensively deal with petty offenses and for cases pending for five years or more; So as to curb on increasing the number of undertrials in prisons,

The report while talking about unnatural deaths reported in jails, points out  Suicide was a major cause of during 2017-21. The panel has recommended suicide-resistant barracks with collapsible material. It wants oversight committees in every state to monitor the functioning of prison departments. This will facilitate transparency and accountability.

The panel has stressed the need for equal rights and facilities for transgender prisoners. Sensitizing the staff would be the key. The SC has included within the ambit of reforms the availability of medical facilities. Telemedicine and consultation through video-conferencing will do away with the hassle of taking prisoners to hospitals. The call for a push to vocational training, which is already being actively pursued, underlines its importance. Urgent action and strict enforcement are vital.

The report recommends introducing telemedicine facilities like remote diagnosis and virtual consultation for the treatment of inmates, strengthening vocational training and education programs, and replacing imprisonment for petty offenses with community service and proper counseling for inmates with psychological disorders

                      The objective of imprisonment, over the years, changed from mere deterrence to deterrence and reformation. Indian prisons face issues like overcrowding, prolonged detention of undertrials, unsatisfactory living conditions, staff shortage and poor training, corruption, and extortion, inadequate social reintegration programs, poor spending on healthcare and welfare, lack of legal aid, and  allegations of indifference and even inhuman approach of prison staff among others.

A congenial atmosphere is required to be created in jails for the benefit of inmates. Inmates also require educational, recreational and vocational training facilities. This will help them not only overcome their hostile attitude towards society which will facilitate their integration with the mainstream, but also provide them with alternate sources of livelihood after release.

Prison is a State subject under List-II of the Seventh Schedule in the Constitution. The need of the hour is model prison rules and regulations for all states for the sake of uniformity and better coordination.


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