Why in news?
=>The Supreme Court formed a Committee on Prison Reforms chaired by former apex court judge, Justice Amitava Roy, to examine the various problems plaguing prisons in the country, from overcrowding to lack of legal advice to convicts to issues of remission and parole.
=>A Bench of Justices Madan B. Lokur, S. Abdul Nazeer and Deepak Gupta appointed the Inspector General of Police, Bureau of Police Research and Development, and the Director General (Prisons) Tihar Jail as the panel’s members.
The mandate of the committee is related to
Terms of Reference:
=>The Amitava Roy Committee need not confine itself to these four issues but can comprehensively examine and respond to the dire necessity of reforms in prisons.
=>The Bench has directed the committee to examine the extent of overcrowding in prisons and correctional homes and recommend remedial measures, including an examination of the functioning of Under Trial Review Committees, availability of legal aid and advice, grant of remission, parole and furlough.
=>The panel would also probe the reasons for violence in prisons and correctional homes and recommend preventive measures.
=>It would assess the availability and inadequacy of staff in prisons and correctional homes, suggest training and educational modules for the staff and assess the feasibility of establishing open prisons.
=>It has been asked to recommend steps for the psycho-social well-being of minor children of women prisoners, including their education and health.
=>Further to examine and recommend measures for the health, education, development of skills, rehabilitation and social reintegration of children in observation homes, places of safety and special homes established under the provisions of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015.
=>The committee has to complete the collection of data and information and make submit it in a year.
Problems Plaguing India’s Prisons:
=>Prisons are a state subject in India, which means that their administration and control fall under the respective state governments, who are at liberty to make rules and regulations. Over the course of several years, numerous Prison Model Manuals, committees and guidelines have been formed, but structural changes in prisons largely remain insignificant in political discourse.
=>The Supreme Court took cognisance of the disturbing picture of prisons in 2016 after examining the conditions of the then 1382 prisons of India.
=>As per the data on Prison Statistics of 2015, 67.2 percent of prisoners in India are still at the undertrial stage. The presumption of innocence is a well-accepted norm and a deep-rooted principle in the Indian criminal system.
=>However, due to the exceedingly long investigation process and prolonged court orders, innocent individuals end up languishing in jail. This has an unfavourable domino effect on the condition of prisons including staffing, facilities and management, resulting in an adverse impact on the mental and physical state of prisoners.
How it is a blot on ‘Welfare State’?
=>To rectify the issue of undertrials, the Criminal Procedure Code through Section 436A provides that undertrials who have served half the maximum sentence of the offence committed, are eligible to be released on personal bond, with or without surety.
=>However, with little or no implementation and supervision, the situation has deteriorated to an extent that the Supreme Court has acknowledged (as recently as 2018) that overcrowding in jails is well above 100 percent, and in some cases, even exceeds 150 percent.
=>The state has a duty towards the preservation of life of its citizens, whether behind bars or not, under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.
=>The demographic trend of prisoners narrates another distressing story. At least 65.9 percent of the total convicts hail from the weaker sections of society.
=>Further, the majority of inmates are illiterate or have only studied up to Class 10. This phenomenon arises either because the Indian judicial system is inherently biased, in recognising that disadvantaged sections are pushed into petty crimes, or due to the lack of adequate legal representation and financial resources.
=>Ultimately, this outcome is unacceptable under the directive principle Article 39A, albeit a non-binding one, which provides for the state to strive for equal opportunity and free legal aid for all.
=>The link between the purpose of prison, and theories of punishment, is again a great cause of confusion. On numerous occasions, courts have come forward to declare that the Indian criminal system is based on a reformatory and rehabilitative approach.
=>However, the ground situation emphasises the opposite: a strong inclination towards retribution and deterrence. This is because we as a society want these criminals to be ‘punished’ and to feel ‘pain’ in the conventional sense. The social theory behind ‘eye for an eye’ is further strengthened by the legislative approach in introducing the death penalty and harsher punishments for certain offences.
=>Certain rebalancing and changes in the prison structure are desperately needed; both literally and figuratively. The voice of 4,19,623 inmates cannot be stifled due to the sole reason that they are the ‘bad people’ (which in the majority of cases is yet to even be proved). Thus, challenging the status quo becomes real, desperate and ever so required.
Pic courtesy:Live Law
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