The Prison Situation

Abstract: Inmates in prison frequently have little or no prospects for advancement in life. They frequently come from marginalised areas of society plagued by poverty and filthy living circumstances, with little access to educational opportunities. Efforts to improve the prison system must be made as part of an all-encompassing programme that addresses issues with the criminal justice system as a whole.

Author: Kartavya Jain

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Despite India’s comparatively low prison population in comparison to many other nations, there are certain fairly typical problems in its prisons. Inmates in prison frequently have little or no prospects for advancement in life. They frequently come from marginalised areas of society plagued by poverty and filthy living circumstances, with little access to educational opportunities. Some of them are in prison because of minor offences they committed due to unforeseen circumstances. Some of them are in prisons because of false accusations.

In India, the terms “prison” and “jail” are interchangeable; this may be a reflection of the fact that little effort is made to keep convicts and “undertrials,” as those who are awaiting trial are known, apart. A ruling by the Supreme Court of India mandates the separation of undertrials from convicts, although in reality, this ruling is frequently disregarded. All convicts, by a significant margin, are “undertrials.”

According to the most recent release by NCRB, there were 4.89 lakh inmates housed in 1,306 jails nationwide as of December 31, 2020. These prisons could hold 4.14 lakh people in total. In other words, there were 4.89 lakh inmates in the country’s prisons, compared to a maximum capacity of 4.14 lakh. Although the number of convicts in prisons fell by 22% in 2020, compared to the previous year, the number of undertrial inmates increased. The largest percentage of detainees awaiting trial was reported in Delhi and Jammu & Kashmir, with Bihar, Punjab, Odisha, and Maharashtra following. Many of these states reported jail occupancy rates that were significantly higher than 100%. The rates of deaths in detention climbed by 7% in 2020, according to Pratiksha Baxi, an associate professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University’s Center for the Study of Law and Governance who has worked on prison reforms.

While there are still 33 percent of unfilled positions for prison officials overall, there are still roughly 36 percent of unfilled positions for supervising officers. In terms of a serious personnel shortage, the Tihar prison in Delhi is ranked third. The number of recruits from within this prison falls short of its real need by roughly 50%. Delhi, the capital of the country, has the most overcrowded jails with a severe shortage of senior supervisory staff and prison guards. The jails in states with the fewest guards, including Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Jharkhand, have over 65 percent staff vacancies among jailers, prison guards, and supervisory levels. Living circumstances become unpleasant as a result of overcrowding. Unacceptable living circumstances persist in numerous prisons around the nation, despite the fact that several of the jail reforms mentioned previously concentrated on topics like diet, clothes, and sanitation. Not a single prison can claim that it has sufficient water for daily use as given in the prison manual. In the jails of Madikeri, Bidar, Gulbarga, Bellary, and Bangalore, approximately 75 convicts are required to use a single restroom on any given day due to inadequate facilities and levels of overcrowding. While the Model Prison Manual calls for one toilet to be used by every seven convicts, the majority of recently built prisons only have two toilets available for use by 60 inmates at night. Even the daytime restrooms outside the barracks are insufficient in some institutions. Despite having plenty of room, suitable restrooms are not built. The majority of jails have very limited access to both municipal and groundwater for drinking.

The possibility of health issues in jails is increased by overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, a lack of physical and mental stimulation, and a lack of adequate medical care. Prisons are “ideal venues for infectious disease screening and intervention, given the conditions of poverty and drug addiction,” according to Kazi and others.

Mohammad Ali Bhat was just 25 years old when a Delhi Police squad hustled him into a vehicle in Kathmandu, Nepal, in 1996. Bhat, who was born in Kashmir, was a shawl merchant in Nepal’s capital. From there, he was transported to Delhi and charged in the Lajpat Nagar bomb case, before being transferred to Rajasthan and charged in the Samlethi blast case. As a result, he spent years in jail in Delhi and Rajasthan. Bhat was ruled innocent by the Rajasthan High Court on July 22, 2019. Bhat, who was found “not guilty” at the age of 48, had spent 23 of his prime years in prison as a result of India’s sluggish judicial system. Mohammad Ali is not the only one to suffer from our sluggish system. According to a 2019 article by India Today, 68% of inmates in India have not been convicted of a crime by any court. Many of them must wait years before the trial court will even hear their cases. According to the latest National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) figures, jails in India are largely crowded with young men and women who are illiterate or semi-literate and hail from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds. More than 65 percent of undertrial detainees are from the SC, ST, or OBC groups. The majority of them are too impoverished to pay the bail.

The Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 spells out the paradigm for achieving Access to Justice by providing free legal services to the disadvantaged and the marginalised. Recognizing prisoners as disadvantaged, the Legal Services Act mandates to provide legal services to them. The government gives a lawyer free of charge to anyone who cannot afford to engage outside counsel through the legal aid system, which is critical to marginalised and backward populations, which account for more than half of India’s convicts. Despite the development of a powerful framework, there remain flaws in the provision of legal assistance. The plan has failed to recruit qualified attorneys, and there is no way for clients to challenge the scheme. The quality of legal assistance is a key source of concern. We need to pay lawyers more, if not market rate. Otherwise, as is commonly stated, bad legal help will continue to be poor legal aid. Article 22 of the Constitution provides an arrestee the right to a counsel, however there is no national plan for legal help in the police station, and no state has such a scheme. For the vast majority of persons arrested, having a lawyer at your side is your only hope behind prison.
There is a significant need to address prison related problems so that we can tap into the potential of the prisoners. In India, overcrowding has made the sanitary issue worse. The circumstances are horrendous in many prisons. Even the most basic facilities are not offered in the jails at the tehsil level. While every prisoner receives a medical checkup before starting their sentence, inmates in India are not even checked for certain infectious diseases. There have been no nationwide studies on the frequency of viral infections among prisoners. The prison guidelines in India call for isolating inmates who may have contagious ailments. A few prisons have made unofficial connections with health and social service providers to provide convicts with counselling and stop the spread of illnesses. There are various reasons why violence occurs in prisons. Conflicts between clans or gangs or ethnic animosities may be the root of conflicts. The cramped, frequently wildly overcrowded living circumstances also cause conflict between prisoners. The monotonous jail atmosphere, a lack of mental and physical stimulation, and plain old boredom cause frustration and anxiety to build up. This setting encourages high-risk behaviours like drug use and intersex between guys. Some people participate in these pursuits to beat boredom. Others, however, are coerced into participating in them in an effort to obtain power or money. If left uncontrolled, risky lifestyles can result in the spread of diseases from one prisoner to another, posing a major threat to public health.

Prisoners cannot fend for themselves in their situation of detention, and it is the responsibility of the state to provide for health services and a healthy environment. Human rights instruments call for prisoners to receive health care at least equivalent to that available for the outside population.

Overcrowding, low morale among prison staff which encourages corruption in prisoner management, and poorly crafted programs to change prisoners’ perspectives on crime and deviance are the three concerns that require high consideration. The first affects the other two parameters significantly. The root cause of the majority of the problems is overcrowding in prisons. It goes without saying that the population of those awaiting trial must be dramatically reduced if jail congestion is to be decreased. Of course, this requires cooperation between the police and the courts.

Irrespective of their status—convict, defendant, or detainee—prisoners retain their humanity. They also enjoy all the rights that a free person does, albeit with certain limitations. Their fundamental rights are not taken away from them just because they are in prison. He continues to exercise all of his fundamental rights while incarcerated. Prisoners continue to have access to their remaining constitutional rights even after being found guilty of a crime and having their freedom taken away in accordance with the legal process. Prisoners must be reminded that they are still citizens despite their status as inmates and must not be regarded as throwaway goods. To humanise the jail, it is necessary to address its fundamental issues.
  • Improvement in Infrastructure: The Indian prisons face three major long standing structural constraints. These are overcrowding, understaffing & understanding, and violent clashes. The emphasis should be on supplying jails with new security equipment in line with contemporary technologies and enhancing the jail security system with security equipment such as door frames, metal detectors, security poles, baggage scanners, frisking, search, jamming solutions, etc. There is a need to concentrate on the administration of corrections, which entails bringing about an attitude change in the mindset of prison staff members handling inmates through extensive training and by introducing suitable programmes for inmates’ skill development and rehabilitation, including engaging trained correctional experts, behavioural experts, psychologists, etc.
  • Improvement in quality of legal aid: As mentioned earlier almost half of the convicts and under trial prisoners can’t afford a personal attorney and hence depend on the legal aid provided by the government. However the scheme has failed to attract good quality lawyers. One of the main reasons is low remuneration. According to the study ‘Hope Behind Bars’ by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, there are 70,000 legal assistance attorneys in India, yet per capita legal aid spending is only Rs 0.75, one of the lowest in the world. According to the survey, per capita spending in Australia is $23 and in Argentina it is $17. Lawyers need to be paid much more otherwise the quality of legal aid won’t improve. There is also a need to have a separate department for under trial prisoners to speed up the process so that those who are innocent don’t have to waste their time in these prisons.
  • Digital Literacy and Skill Development Programs: These programs can go a long way in ensuring that we do not waste the huge amount of human resources that we have in prisons. One of the main reasons for them to commit crimes, especially non violent ones, was poverty. To ensure they don’t commit crimes once they are released we need to educate/upskill them so that they can be financially independent and support themselves and their families. The prisoners can also be provided training by firms who require more workforce to meet the increase in demand. Upon training they can be employed by these firms at a salary which is lower than market rates. This will have a dual fold impact as it will improve efficiency of these firms while the prisoners will be able to support their families from the prison.
  • Opportunities for Prisoners: As of 31st December, 2020, the maximum number of inmates (2,15,418, 44.1%) were belonging to the age group of 18-30 years followed by the age group of 30-50 years (2,09,400 inmates, 42.9%). These numbers further support the argument that such prisoners, if provided an opportunity, can create wonders. A system of upscaling and educating prisoners can ensure prevention of repetition of offence by them. It will also ensure that they are able to support their family financially and can realise their self worth.
  • Deradicalisation: Deradicalisation of minds of prisoners and juveniles can go a long way in ensuring that they do not repeat the offence. It will prepare them for reintegration into the society upon their release. It also aids to process trauma and painful emotions, bringing a long term change in attitude and behaviour. It will help them to improve their self esteem and realise their self worth. This can be achieved through Clay Art therapy, meditation and other techniques.


Efforts to improve the prison system must be made as part of an all-encompassing programme that addresses issues with the criminal justice system as a whole. It is clear from the foregoing study of the issues facing inmates that living inside is more than just an animal existence. You cannot deny that the same applies to the prisoners’ spirits. There is a huge amount of potential underlying in prisons. If used efficiently we will be able to scale new heights. At the end of the day they are also human beings who ended up on the wrong path. If shown the correct path they can achieve something in life. Every human deserves a chance to correct their mistakes. These solutions can solve some of the problems that we face. The goal is to “humanise” rather than making prisons a pleasant place to return to after being released, if only because you lack the resources or desire to truly live in society. Prisons should act as a rehabilitation centre rather than a punishment centre. According to the rehabilitation philosophy, people can improve their self-assurance, cooperation, and independence through a range of programmes. Of course, in order to remove inequality and prejudice, this system functions in conjunction with a thorough set of changes in other fields and industries. Correctional methods must put more of an emphasis on rehabilitation than on punishment. It will enable those who were formerly incarcerated to lead regular lives without turning to crime when accompanied with enough aid and support. Prisons have the potential to be either institutions for reformation or a breeding ground for violent, destructive ideas. An ineffective jail system poses a risk to society and wastes money by failing to turn offenders into law-abiding citizens.

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