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Prison Reforms and Repeal of Obsolete Laws - UPSC Current Affairs

Jan 29, 2023

Prison Reforms and Repeal of Obsolete Laws

Enhance your UPSC CSE preparation with our daily dose of Current Affairs wherein we discuss topics that make news at National and International level. In today’s edition of our Current Affairs, we will discuss Prison Reforms and Repeal of Obsolete Laws. The topic’s relevance to the UPSC CSE syllabus is mentioned below.

For Prelims: Indian Polity and Governance-Constitution, Political System, Panchayati Raj, Public Policy, Rights Issues, etc.

Prison Reforms in India, Major legislations for prison reforms, committees for prison reforms in India, Government’s initiatives for prison reforms.

For Mains: GS Mains Paper II (Vulnerable Sections) & GS Mains Paper III (Internal Security) 

Prison Reforms and Repeal of Obsolete Laws


At the 57th All-India Conference of Director Generals/ Inspector Generals of Police, the Prime Minister suggested prison reforms to improve jail management and recommended repealing obsolete criminal laws.

Probable Question

In order to address the problem of undertrial prisoners in the country, there is an urgent need to redress issues of an understaffed and overworked judiciary, strengthening district legal service authorities and long-term jail reforms. Explain. (250 words, 15 marks).

Suggestions made by the Prime Minister

  • Making the police forces more sensitive and training them in emerging technologies. 
  • He emphasized on the importance of the National Data Governance Framework for the smoothing of data exchange, across agencies.
  • Leveraging technological solutions like biometrics etc., in addition to strengthening of the traditional policing mechanisms like foot patrols etc.
  • Strengthening of border as well as coastal security by organizing frequent visits of officials to these locations.
  • Need for enhanced cooperation between the State Police and Central Agencies to leverage capabilities and share best practices. 
  • He suggested replicating the model of the DGsP/IGsP Conference at the State/district levels, for discussing emerging challenges and evolving best practices among their teams.

Issues with prisons in India

  • Overcrowding: As per the National Crime Records Bureau’s 2021 statistics, there were a total of 5,54,034 people in prisons across India, as against a capacity of 4,25,609. The overcrowding is because 77% of India’s 5.54 lakh prisoners are undertrials.
    • As many as 11,490 prisoners had spent more than five years in jail without a conviction
    • As per the NCRB’s prison statistics for 2021, the occupancy rate was 130%, a 12-percentage-point increase over the previous year. 
    • In two states, Uttarakhand and UP, the occupancy rate was as high as 185%. 
  • Obsolete and irrational criminal laws: Over 10% of the prison population in 2021 were undertrials for rape and dowry deaths. Both are heinous crimes that should lead to severe punishment. However, sexual assault laws do not differentiate between rape and false promises of marriage.
    • Anti-dowry laws are framed in such a way that police can arrest multiple people for one crime. 
    • About 25% of undertrials in 2021 were imprisoned under special and local laws – for crimes falling under the umbrella of liquor and narcotics. Prohibition laws are irrational and often lead to poorer citizens being jailed for long periods.
  • Inefficient legal aid: Lawyers in India are poorly paid, and often over-burdened with cases. The disadvantaged sections of the society suffer as a result of lack of aid.
  • Miserable conditions of Indian prisons: Lack of space, poor ventilation, poor sanitation and hygiene make living conditions deplorable.
  • Shortage of staff: The ratio between the prison staff and the prison population is approximately 1:7, which leads to rampant violence and other criminal activities inside the jails.
  • Torture and Sexual abuse: India’s incarceration system is prone to abuse because it was set up by the British to subjugate political prisoners. Prisoners are subjected to inhuman psychological and physical torture, and instances of sexual abuse in prisons is not unfamiliar.
  • Custodial deaths: In 2015, a total of 1,584 prisoners died in jails due to poor prison conditions as well as custodial violence.
  • Lack of medical aid for prisoners.
  • Discrimination against socio-economically disadvantaged prisoners: According to Humans Rights Watch, a “rigid” class system exists in Indian prisons, where the disadvantaged groups are suffering.
  • Inadequate security measures: Poor security measures and prison management often leads to violence among inmates and resultant injury and in some cases death.
  • Lack of mental healthcare: Because of physical and psychological torture in prisons, the inmates suffer mentally, which is often ignored in India.
  • Lack of education among prisoners: Data from the Prison Statistics of India 2021 report of the National Crime Records Bureau show that more than 77% of India’s 5.54 lakh prisoners are undertrials, and 25 percent of this prisoner population is illiterate.
StatesOriginal capacityPrison population, as per 2019 NCRB dataPrison population, as of July 17, 2022Occupancy rate
Uttar Pradesh60,340101,297119,963198.81
Madhya Pradesh28,71844,60348,635169.35%

Three principles upheld by the Supreme Court regarding imprisonment and custody

  • A person in prison does not become a non-person.
  • A person in prison is entitled to all human rights within the limitations of imprisonment
  • There is no justification for aggravating the suffering already inherent in the process of incarceration.
Prison Reforms and Repeal of Obsolete Laws

Legislations dealing with prisons in India

  • The Prisons Act, 1894: Deals with the smooth functioning of prisoners rather than the reformation and rehabilitation of prisoners kept in jail.
  • Transfer of Prisoners Act, 1950: Provides for the removal from one State to another of persons confined in a prison.
  • Legal service Authority Act, 1987: The Act was enacted to provide free and competent legal services to the weaker sections of the society to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen by reason of economic or other disabilities, and to organize Lok Adalats to secure that the operation of the legal system promotes justice on a basis of equal opportunity.
  • Repatriation of Prisoners Act, 2003: Act was enacted by the Government of India with a view to help the foreign prisoners imprisoned in a jail in India or vice versa to be transferred to their native countries for serving the remaining part of their sentence near to their families so as to help them in their process of social rehabilitation.

Committees relating to prison reforms in India

  1. Mulla Committee, 1983- The Committee recommended,
  • The setting up of a National Prison Commission to oversee the modernization of the prisons in India.
  • Separating juvenile offenders from hardened criminals in prison.
  • Enacting a comprehensive and protective legislation for the security and care of juveniles.
  • Mentally ill prisoners should be sent to a mental asylum.
  • Improving the conditions of prison by making adequate arrangements for food, sanitation and ventilation etc.
  • Undertrials should be kept separate from the convicted prisoners.
  1. Krishna Iyer Committee, 1987
  • The committee mandated the study of the condition of women prisoners in the country.
  • Recommended induction of more women police officers to tackle women and child offenders.
  1. Justice Amitava Roy Committee, 2018- The committee recommended- 
  • Setting up Special fast-track courts to deal exclusively with petty offenses which have been pending for more than 5 years.
  • Accused persons who are charged with petty offenses and granted bail, but who are unable to arrange surety should be released on a Personal Recognizance (PR) Bond.
  • There should be at least one lawyer for every 30 prisoners.
  • The concept of plea bargaining should be promoted.
  1. The Law Commission of India in 2017 recommended that undertrials who have completed a third of their maximum sentence for offenses attracting up to seven years of imprisonment be released on bail.

Steps taken by the Government for prison reforms in India

  • Modernization of Prisons scheme: Launched in 2002-03 with the objective of improving the condition of prisons, prisoners and prison personnel. 
  • E-Prisons Project: The project aims to bring in efficiency in prison management through the process of digitization.
  • Open Prisons: The All-India Committee on Jail Reform (1980) recommended setting up open prisons in each state and UTs. 
  • Model Prison Manual:  Introduced in 2016 to replace the existing prison manual. Issues of human rights, the rehabilitation of prisoners in society, the rights of female prisoners, laws for prison inspection and the right to education even for death row convicts have been dealt with in the manual.

Way Forward

  • There is a need to make jails modern and technologically adept with stringent security measures.
  • Introducing better living and health facilities, libraries, and training programmes for prisoners to help them get back to society and initiatives to promote mental development.
  • Initiatives must be taken to improve the conditions of under-trial prisoners through speeding up the trial procedure, simplification of the bail procedure and providing effective legal aid.
  • Providing proper training and resources to prison staff, as well as implementing effective systems for monitoring and accountability.
  • It is the responsibility of the jail administration to ensure that jails become a medium for such people who are not ‘born criminals’ or ‘criminals by nature’ to get back to society.

News Source: The Hindu


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are major issues of prisons in India?

The major issues plaguing Indian prisons are:

  • Overcrowding of prisons
  • Unhealthy living conditions
  • Shortage of staff
  • Inadequate training programs for prison officials
  • Poor budgetary allocations
  • Insufficient and fractured legal aid
  • Physical, mental and sexual abuse of prisoners
  • Custodial torture
  • Suicides
  • Corruption
  • Lack of a statutory right to compensation
  • Fractured post-release care and rehabilitation mechanisms

Who controls prisons in India?

Prison and their administration is a state subject covered by item number 4 under the state list of seventh schedule of Indian Constitution. State government has exclusive power related to the management and administration of prisons.

Which is the biggest jail in India?

Tihar Prisons, also called Tihar Jail and Tihar Ashram, is a prison complex in India and the largest complex of prisons in South Asia. Run by Department of Delhi Prisons, Government of Delhi, the prison contains nine central prisons, and is one of the three prison complexes in Delhi

Who is the father of Indian Penal Code?

The Indian Penal Code was drafted by the first Law Commission which was chaired by Thomas Babington Macaulay. It was drafted in 1834 and submitted to the Council of Governor-General of India in 1835..

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