Prisoner’s Right In India

“WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, HAVING SOLEMNLY RESOLVED TO CONSTITUTE INDIA INTO A SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC”, this is what the preamble of the world‟s largest democracy relates to. India being the largest democracy of the world has profusion of unique features such as free elections, freedom of speech and expression, an independent judiciary and many more that helps us to make this country a lively civil society.

Despite being a sui generis system with a unique blend of features, something has gone wrong in the country. It is very unfortunate that in a civilized country like India the rights of the prisoners find place only on the paper with, hardly any prison‟s authority executing them accurately. 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”

Read: Right Of Anonymity Of The Victims Of Sexual Offences

As a whole the criminal jurisprudence discipline relating to prison has undergone a drastic change since independence. There has been a drift from deterrent aspect to reformative and rehabilitative one. The new trend after the recommendations of various committees and reports incites new reformative methods such as remission of punishment due to good conduct, payment of wages for labor, creating facilities like canteen etc. It is vital to note that most of such benefits derived from various sources are now recognized by judiciary as part of the basic rights of the prisoners.


It is correct to state that when a person is put „behind bars‟ he loses many of his rights. However a sentence of imprisonment does not impliedly extinguish all his legal remedies and rights that are guaranteed to him by the Constitution of the country. The courts which send offenders into prison, have an onerous duty to ensure that during detention, detenues have freedom from torture and follow the words of William Black that “Prisons are built with stones of Law”. So, when human rights are harassed behind the bars, Constitutional justice comes forward to uphold the law and provide justice to the prisoner.


The Hon‟ble Supreme Court in plethora of the judgments have observed that imprisonment does not mean complete deprivation of fundamental rights, however it is legally correct to suggest that the scope of fundamental rights for the prisoners will not be as wide as it is for nonprisoners. The Supreme Court in the leading judgment of State of Maharashtra v Prabhakar Pandurang Sanzgir  has held that conditions of detention cannot be extended to deprivation of fundamental rights particularly under Article 14, 19 and Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.



In 1978, the Supreme Court in Maneka Gandhi case, ruled that the expression life did not mean mere animal existence but with dignity. In view of this observation, a prisoner does not cease to be a human being even when lodged in jail; he continues to enjoy all his fundamental rights including the right to life. However it is pertinent to understand that despite several of the orders and judgments passed by the Apex Court, its execution stands completely opposite of it.  As per the Prisons Statistics Report Data 20153 as many as 115 unnatural deaths were reported in the year 2015 to which even the prisoner‟s authority did not had any justification. As per the RTI reply by the Office of the Superintendent Central Jail No. 03, Tihar, New Delhi it was observed that even after one and half year after the passing of the bail orders, as many as five (5) under trail inmates were not released which per se is an infringement of Right To Life under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution


The Apex Court in its landmark judgment in “Parmanand Katara vs Union Of India and others” ruled that the state has an obligation to preserve life whether he is an innocent person or a criminal liable to punishment under the law. The right to medical treatment and most certainly the right not to contract diseases in prison is the basic human right. However whenever a healthy life comes under consideration, prisoners are often forgotten in this equation, despite being several of the orders by the Apex Court as well as the High Court the hygienic and health conditions provided to the prisoners is not at all justifiable. From several of the reports it can be concluded that diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis A were most common among the prisoners. Due to which it is paramount for the prison administration to have a basic knowledge as to how HIV is likely to be transmitted in a given prison. It should be duly noted that HIV-positive inmates should be resided in separate barracks and certain special kind of treatment by the team of specialist doctors should be duly provided to them.

Delay in disposal of cases is denial of justice, so the court is expected to adopt necessary steps for expeditious trial and quick disposal of cases . In the landmark and eye-opener judgment the Hon‟ble Supreme Court has held that if the Government fails to conduct a trial within reasonable time, it violates the guarantee of the life and personal liberty enshrined in Article 21. A PIL was filed in the form of habeas corpus writ in the interest of under trial prisoners, who were languishing in jails in the State of Bihar for years awaiting their trial. The Supreme Court held that “right to speedy trial‟ is a fundamental right implicit and guarantee of “life and personal liberty” enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution.

Read: Prisoner’s Rights Vs Fundamental Rights

Issues Of Concerns Regarding Prisoners In India:

The Hon‟ble Supreme Court of India in the case of “Rama Murthy v State Of Karnataka6” specified nine (9) problems that the Indian prisons are afflicted with. Those being: –

 80% of prisoners are under trials  Delay in trial.  Even though bail is granted, prisoners are not released.  Lack or insufficient provision of medical aid to prisoners  Callous and insensitive attitude of jail authorities  Punishment carried out by jail authorities not coherent with punishment given by court.  Harsh mental and physical torture  Lack of proper legal aid  Corruption and other malpractices.

Solution to these problems among Prison Authorities in India:

A sentence of imprisonment constitutes only a deprivation of the basic right to liberty. It does not entail the restriction of other human rights, with the exception of those which are naturally restricted by the very fact of being in prison. Prison reforms are necessary to ensure that this principle is respected, the human rights of prisoners protected and their prospects for social reintegration increased, in compliance with relevant international standards and norms.

In order for a prison system to be managed in a fair and humane manner, national legislation, policies, and practices must be guided by the international standards developed to protect the human rights of prisoners. Prison torture in all forms is banned by the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the 1949 Geneva Conventions (signed 1949), the American Convention on Human Rights (signed 1977), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (signed 1977), and the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (signed 1988).

Prison authorities have a responsibility to ensure that the supervision and treatment of prisoners is in line with the rule of law, with respect to individuals‟ human rights, and that the period of imprisonment is used to prepare individuals for life outside the prison following release. But often national legislation and rules relating to the management of prisons are outdated and in need have reform.


The prisoners who are in prison for long periods of time need constant care and support because they do not lose their humanity by committing a crime. They are endowed with and deserve an equivalent amount of human dignity and respect. The prisoners need to be visited regularly to ease them of their rigorous prison life and need to be talked to about the problems that they are facing. Also educational, rehabilitation and mental health counseling can be provided to the prisoners.The prison is supposed to be for a reformatory purpose. However, the entire purpose fails when the prisoners are denied the very rights that are fundamental to their being a human being. Thus, we should take steps to ensure that their basic human rights are not infringed and that they live with dignity, because, after-all, they are humans too.

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Pranav Arooa


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