The pathetic and inhuman conditions prevailing in our prisons, jails and remand homes, particularly those for juveniles, has finally been taken note of by the Supreme Court. Overcrowded and understaffed, our jails offer sub-human living conditions, and violent clashes among and between inmates and authorities are regular affairs. In 2015, on an average, four prisoners died every day, according to a report.
More than 75 deaths were reported to be suicides while fellow inmates murdered 11 prisoners. Responding to a 2013 PIL seeking action on unnatural deaths, ill-trained and inadequate staff, and other issues plaguing 1,382 prisons across the country, a Supreme Court bench comprising Justices M B Lokur and Deepak Gupta Friday ordered that the government must identify and compensate the next of kin of those who die unnaturally in juvenile homes and prisons. The Supreme Court asked the government to consider extending phone and video conference facilities for prisoners to communicate with their families and lawyers.
The modern-day prison administration which seeks to just punish inmates rather than transform them originated with Lord Macaulay and is a legacy of British rule. The Prisons Act, 1894 is more than a century old. So while the reforms, though limited and long overdue, are a step in the right direction, those expecting instant reforms are urged not to hold their breath.
Last year, Home Minister Rajnath Singh approved a new prison manual which aimed to bring in basic uniformity in rules governing the administration of prisons and the management of prisoners all over the country. The court has now directed the Centre to circulate this manual.
The government had already set up various committees including the Justice Mulla Committee and Justice Krishna Iyer Committee on Women Prisoners to look into prison reforms, yet the problems seem to persist. So while the ruling must be commended, implementing it is another question altogether.