Latest data reveals that jails in the country are packed. What's new?

Recently issued prison data reveals that jails in the country have a total capacity of 3.9 lakh prisoners. However, they are housing over 4.5 lakh prisoners

Ranvijay SinghRanvijay Singh   5 Nov 2019 6:10 AM GMT

Latest data reveals that jails in the country are packed. Whats new?

The jails in the country are in dire straits. They are packed with prisoners in numbers exceeding far beyond their capacity. Recently issued prison statistics by the National Crime Records Bureau 2017 has informed that till December 31, 2017, there were a total of 1,361 jails in the country with a total capacity of 3.9 lakh prisoners. However, these jails are housing over 115.1% or 4.5 lakh prisoners which far exceeds their capacity. This alone sufficiently explains as to why Indian jails fare poorly.

Besides, between 2015 and 2017, there had been a fall of 2.85% in the number of jails at the national level. In 2015, the number of jails was 1,401, which fell to 1,361 in 2017. So, on one side, the number of jails was on a decline while the number of inmates was increasing on the other. The number of inmates has shown an increase of 7.4% between 2015 and 2017. In 2015 these jails had 4,19,623 inmates whereas in 2017 their number got increased to 4,50,696.

So, it is clear that the jails are crumbling under the excessive number of prisoners and their number is also falling. This situation has a direct impact upon the jail inmates and officials. To understand it, Gaon Connection talked to certain officials concerning jail administration, criminologists and prisoners' advocate.

We spoke with Jitendra Kumar of Bihar's Purnia Central, which holds almost double the number of inmates than its capacity. He said: "The Purnia Jail has a capacity to hold 890 prisoners, but, in fact, has 1,646 prisoners. Obviously, this creates problems. Overcrowding poses a challenge of sanitation and hygiene. In summers it adversely affects the health too."

He added: "We too work under tremendous pressure. Long office hours of 12 hourly shifts produces stress. People unfit for the society are kept secluded in a spot. Out of these 30-40 per cent have a criminal bent of mind, they are ready to fight at the slightest of issue. Someone going to the bathroom and accidentally getting brushed by someone else's leg is enough to create a furore. We have to be alert all the time. Then there are warring gangs or factions within a jail which cannot be kept together. Kids are to be kept away from the criminals. Prisoners aged above 60 years are to be kept separate. All these are the issues, we must struggle with on a day to day basis."

The number of inmates has shown an increase of 7.4% between 2015 and 2017

Like Purnia Central Jail, Naini Central Jail in Uttar Pradesh's Allahabad also houses double its capacity of inmates. BR Verma, DIG Jail, Allahabad Zone, said: "The Naini Central Jail has a capacity of 2,060 inmates; however, about 4,000 inmates are currently imprisoned here. Over-crowding leads to all kinds of problems -- from hygiene to law and order. If a barrack with a capacity of 30 is filled with 60 inmates, there are bound to be issues."

He added: "In such a case, if a prisoner doesn't get the necessary space there will be increased possibility of mutual acrimony. If a prisoner doesn't get to lie down or sleep properly, he would face mental fatigue. There are many such challenges that we face."

Harpreet Singh Hora, Delhi High Court's advocate, works for the human rights of the prisoners. Recently he had presented a suit for the installation of CCTV cameras within Tihar Jail premises. Harpreet said: "The jail administrations make light of the matter that the jails are housing prisoners in numbers far exceeding their capacities. We need to understand that the jails were made by the British to torture dissenting Indians. But our jails do not serve that purpose anymore. Modern jails aim at reform and rehabilitation. We imprison neither to seek revenge nor to punish. Our focus remains to reform the prisoner so that he becomes a better citizen upon leaving the jail."

He added: "So, if the jails house prisoners more than their capacity it makes their management difficult. More prisoners would mean increased possibilities of altercations. Normally, we see that open areas have fewer conflicts and the places with denser populations witness frequent conflicts. One can witness this at state level where Ladakh has comparatively negligible rate of disputes than Uttar Pradesh and Bihar where they are commonplace."'

"Not every person going to jail is a hardcore criminal. Suppose there is an engineer whose car had mistakenly hit someone who died and as a result the engineer gets four years imprisonment. Now that person is kept in the jail which houses dangerous criminals so when he walks out of the jail, after four years, either he would have become insane or a criminal if he has a slight criminal bent of mind. Now think that he had entered the jail with a singular charge of mistakenly causing someone's death whereas when he comes out, he could be a pickpocket or even a murderer. All these problems arise due to overcrowding."

The government has proposed Jail Modernization Scheme for the improvement of jails.

Criminologist Deepak Chaudhary also believes that overcrowding in jails poses many challenges. Deepak informed that most of the prisoners are under trial. They form about 68 per cent of the inmates. They have to stay imprisoned primarily because of the delays in the trials because for their cases hearing they get the dates for up to 2-3 months later. This delay could be probably due to shortage of judges hearing the cases. Every single judge is saddled with an enormous number of cases, so the dates would be far between and the accused will have to stay longer as prisoner.

If one talks about the population of the under-trial prisoners that Deepak has mentioned, Indian Jail Statistics, 2017 informed of about 3,08,718 under-trial prisoners in 2017. 75% of these prisoners had spent a year or less in jails.

Chaudhary added: "While jail capacity is being improved, but not in the same rate of leap of crime. The reason being is that most of these jails are single floored. If these jails are turned into multi-floored complexes it would resolve the issue to a greater extent. Such extension won't require more space and can be developed on the existing facility. Something like this has been undertaken in Tihar. We need to make multistoried buildings and also concentrate on speedier trials."

It is not that the government hasn't taken any steps to enhance the number and the capacity of the jails. The government has proposed Jail Modernization Scheme for the improvement of jails. This scheme will cost Rs 188 crore and will aim to construct 199 new jails, 1,572 additional barracks and 8,568 quarters for the jail officials. So, it can be hoped that the coming time shall see certain improvement in the state of jails in the country.

Also Read: Gaon Connection Survey: 36.4% said the police is doing a good job, but …

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