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Supreme Court panel recommends several prison reforms

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Supreme Court panel recommends several prison reforms

What to study?

For Prelims: Committee constituted for the purpose.

For Mains: Prison reforms- need, concerns, challenges and reforms suggested.

Context: Supreme Court panel recommends several prison reforms.

Key recommendations:

  1. Every new prisoner should be allowed a free phone call a day to his family members to see him through his first week in jail.
  2. Modern cooking facilities, canteens to buy essential items and trial through video-conferencing should be made available.
  3. Speedy trial remains one of the best ways to remedy the unwarranted phenomenon of over-crowding.
  4. There should be at least one lawyer for every 30 prisoners, which is not the case at present.
  5. Special fast-track courts should be set up to deal exclusively with petty offences which have been pending for more than five years.

Background:

The court had in September 2018 appointed the Justice Roy Committee to examine the various problems plaguing prisons, from overcrowding to lack of legal advice to convicts to issues of remission and parole.

The decision was in reaction to a letter written by former Chief Justice of India R.C. Lahoti highlighting the overcrowding of prisons, unnatural deaths of prisoners, gross inadequacy of staff and the lack of trained staff.

Need for reforms:

  1. NHRC figures show that prisoners cut off from family and friends had a 50% more chance of committing suicide than those outside. The average suicide rate in prisons is over 50% more than in normal conditions.
  2. Indian prisons face three long-standing structural constraints: overcrowding, understaffing and underfunding. The inevitable outcome is sub-human living conditions, poor hygiene, and violent clashes between the inmates and jail authorities.
  3. In the absence of adequate prison staff, overcrowding of prisons leads to rampant violence and other criminal activities inside the jails.

Way ahead:

Indian jails have often been dubbed as a university for grooming criminals due to pathetic and inhumane conditions. In the absence of a robust Whistleblower Protection Act and structural changes to address the issues of overcrowding and understaffing, India’s prisons will continue to be heaven for politically connected criminals and hell for socio-economically disadvantaged undertrials, some regular media uproars notwithstanding.

Fundamental rights of prisoners cannot be placed in the back-burner and the Centre and the states need to be more pro-active in sensitising staff about the need to treat prisoners as humanely as possible.

Facts for Prelims:

‘Prisons/persons detained therein’ is a State subject under Entry 4 of List II of the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution of India.

Sources: the hindu.