Millennium Post

Restructuring punishment

Hearing a plea vis-à-vis the inhuman condition in 1,382 prisons across India, the Supreme Court directed the Central government to file a reply to Justice Amitava Roy committee in two weeks, citing steps to combat overcrowding and vacancies in prisons. Prison reforms have been point of discussion for a long time now. Several SC judgments as well as committee recommendations on prison reforms have been there but prisons in India continue to function in a dire state. The numbers appear grossly inadequate in the three institutions of criminal justice system viz., police, judiciary and prisons. India Justice Report 2019 has highlighted the presence of only 621 correctional staff across India's 1,421 prisons. The report goes on to cite that almost all prisons across the country are overcrowded — Delhi being at the top with a 180 per cent occupancy rate. It is not surprising that India requires urgent prison reforms. While the process has not been so efficiently carried out, the plea upon which SC directed the Centre to file its reply has definitely set the ball rolling. With recommendations from the Justice Amitava Roy committee, there remains a pressing need to resolve the overcrowding and under-staffed problem prevalent in India's prisons. The SC panel came up with recommendations such as free phone call every day to new prisoners, modern cooking facilities and trials through video-conferencing. SC rightly acknowledged overcrowding to be a common bane in under-staffed prisons as failing to tend to all prisoners appropriately leaves the fate of many uncertain. Many prisoners waiting for trial suffer extended days behind bars — a gross violation of human rights. While the issue of overcrowding is to be resolved at the court's end, staffing remains under Central government's ambit. It is expected that both the Court and the Centre build on the issue and work out a comprehensive plan to bring these suggested reforms in place. A concerted effort to raise Indian prison standards will help in reducing human rights violations and offer prisoners a better prison environment — one that promotes the correctional aspect rather than exploiting human rights.

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