Sat, Feb 06 2016.
New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday kicked off prison reforms with an order directing authorities to ensure quarterly reviews of undertrials, computerization of prisons and providing facilities to ensure prisoners are treated with dignity.
The order also spoke about reducing overcrowding in prisons. “It is clear that in spite of several orders passed by this court from time to time in various petitions, for one reason or another, the issue of overcrowding in jails continues to persist,” the court noted.
The National Crime Records Bureau’s numbers till 31 December 2014, quoted in the order, show that central jails housed 184,386 prisoners as opposed to their capacity of 152,312 and district jails held 179,695 against a capacity of 135,439.
Observing that prisoners needed to be treated with dignity, a bench comprising justices Madan B. Lokur and R.K. Agrawal directed that undertrials who had completed half the sentence of the crime they were charged with, should be released.
“Treat prisoners with dignity. The Supreme Court has been saying this since (the case of) Sunil Batra (1980). But nothing has changed. Prison reforms are certainly required. But nobody is paying attention to the ultimate purpose of this. What after a prisoner is released? We have to reform society to accept them. The government does nothing to integrate them back into society,” said Ved Kumari, professor of law at Delhi University.
This is not the first such direction from the apex court on the issue. In 2014, a Supreme Court bench ordered strict implementation of the provision of the Criminal Procedure Code which prescribes release of undertrials who have served half their sentence.
For the release of undertrials, the court asked Undertrial Review Committees in all districts to meet every quarter. These committees were required to be set up under a 24 April 2015 order of the apex court.
The court went on to state that no undertrial should languish in jail for want of bail money. According to the order, 3,470 prisoners had not been released because they failed to furnish bail bonds.
In a step to extend reforms to juvenile homes, the court advised that a document similar to the Model Prison Manual be prepared for juvenile observation homes and safety homes. It asked the secretary, women and child development ministry, to respond by 14 March in this connection.
The Model Prison Manual is a document prepared by the home ministry dealing with various incidental issues including custodial management, medical care, education of prisoners, vocational training and skill development programmes, legal aid, welfare of prisoners, after-care and rehabilitation, and prison computerization.
The court, in its directions, also touched upon the need to provide quality legal aid to prisoners by empanelling “competent lawyers”. It noted earlier findings that most prisoners were from the “weaker sections of the society”. The court said that it should be ensured that “legal aid for the poor does not become poor legal aid”.
It also said that police personnel in charge of prisons should ensure effective utilisation of funds allocated to them for improving living conditions of prisoners.
Pushing for computerization, the court directed that a management information system be set in place in all central and district jails so that there is better handling of prisons and prisoners.
It called for an annual review of the implementation of the Model Prison Manual and said that it should not be reduced to just another document.