Author :Mansi Jain,
Sharda University, Uttar Pradesh
“It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.”
Prisons are always a horrible place anywhere, be it in India or beyond the boundaries of it. Similarly, prisoners are part of vulnerable sections of society. "All India Committee on Jail Reforms in 1980” was appointed by the Government of India for executing the working plan for prison administration.
Majority of prisoners in India are uneducated, poor, socially and economically weak and hence, by virtue of this they have very less knowledge about health and lifestyle. According to a research, it has been proven that Indian prisoners have an increased risk of mental disorders and prisoners are likely to commit suicide, do self-harm or abuse.
In these times, we talk a lot about inequality, injustice, freedom, etc all over the world where if a person faces any type of discomfort which is against their fundamental rights as enshrined in Indian Constitution, he can reach out to the court of law. Prisoners face a similar type of problem in prisons but they are not given any remedies just because they are a person convicted of a crime or facing undertrial. No matter whether a person is a criminal or a legal citizen of a country, his basic rights should never be abrogated.
Just like people in Indian society, prisoners also fall prey to a lot of discrimination and partiality. Moneyed as well as privileged people live their life comfortably by having not so many restrictions whereas the underprivileged suffer a lot. They are subjected to psychological and physical torture during detention. The prison administration in the country is very much in a depressing, scarce, and ineffective state. There is very little coordination between the prison and correctional
CONCERN IN PRISONS
1. Havoc Lifestyle
Due to circumstantial issues in India, Indian Prisons are hugely overcrowded which leads to congestion, lack of proper facilities, legal aid, care and treatment of the needy prisoners. At present , it is known that almost 80 percent of prisoners are under trials. Hence, it aggravates the concerns of hygiene and medical treatment. Firstly, food is found to be in pathetic conditions. They are not provided with the standard diet which is mandatory to preserve health and strength. Secondly, it has been observed that in some prisons the cells and barracks which were originally meant for accommodating inmates have been converted into store-rooms, warehouses etc. The condition is so bad that inmates have to sleep in poor rooms which need immediate repair and attention. The Jails Committee have highlighted the exposure of prisoners to health hazards by various factors like bad ventilation, insufficient clothing, bad sanitization etc. Also, there is inefficient vocational training, no proper counseling etc.
2. Communicable Diseases
Wherever there is overcrowding, it can become a “hot spot” for infectious disease transmission. On same aspect, we can only imagine the situation of prisoners living under the same roof within the enclosed walls without any attention to personal hygiene. It can easily lead to the transmission of diseases in prisons giving rise to an unhealthy environment. as there is a constant interaction between prisoners. Many of the Indian prisons have poor sanitary facilities as well as lack cleanliness. Even now, when a lot of social changes have taken place to increase people's access to clean sanitisation, we can easily see open basket type latrines in use, instead of flush latrines. Latrine and urinal facilities in barracks/dormitories for use at night are very inadequate. As a result, they overflow during the night. In most of the prisons, latrines are not provided in cells; only pots are kept there for answering calls of nature. A perpetual stinking smell pervades the atmosphere of most of the prisons.
Prisoners are also at high risk for diseases like sexually transmitted infections, HIV-AIDS, tuberculosis, hepatitis B or C. A national study has found that 1.7 per cent of inmates were HIV positive because sex between them was reported to be common in some Indian Prisons. HIV prevention, care and treatment has largely been neglected in prisons. Sufficient medical inspection is also not practiced in prisons and there is no justification given by prison authorities with regard to this.
3. Mental Health and Torture
The World Health Organization ascertained that overcrowding, violence inside the prisons, lack of privacy and personal liberty, isolation, insecurities about the future, along with the lack of effective mental healthcare in prisons are major reasons for rising mental illness issues in prisons. Mental health is one of the foremost subjects which alarmingly requires due attention. It is not only a social or medical issue but a human right issue in prisons.
On the other hand, torture in the lock-ups is a routine. From the very beginning, the practice of torture of the prisoners was widespread and predominant in India. They are subjected to psychological and physical torture which is against the laws that safeguard them under Criminal Procedure Code. With no restrictions or policy reforms, it has become a legitimate practice worldwide. The People’s Union for Democratic Rights, an organization based in Delhi, alleges that "most of these people die due to severe beating and prolonged torture. Owing to overcrowding, it is generally seen that a lot of clashes and rivalries arise among the prisoners also. Weak prisoners face sexual abuse by privileged prisoners as well as staff also.”
Suicides in Indian prisons are abnormally high. The data collected by the NCRB reveals that nearly 102 people died by suicide in 2016 alone. In 2014, the National Human Rights Commission stated that a person was one and a half times more likely to die by suicide while he or she was in prison. The major cause was the brutality by police. It also highlighted the lack of health professionals and psychologists to tend to the needs of these prisoners.
The Indian prisons have made some advances in the material aspects of administration, health, food, and most importantly mental health. The Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 contains relevant provisions. Section 31(2) provides mandatory training to medical officers in prisons to provide basic and emergency mental healthcare. Similarly, under section 103(6), it mandates that state governments should set up mental health establishments in the medical wing of at least one prison in the state. But this Act has failed miserably because these provisions are not followed by prison authorities. Despite the landmark ruling in the case of Sunil Batra vs. Delhi Administration wherein the court held that every human whether the Prisoner or not is entitled to have fundamental rights. Still, India lacks in some way or the other.
Justice Rajiv Sharma, of the Uttarakhand High Court, remarked: “A prisoner may emerge from the prison not only without job skills but also incapacitated for future work because of severe and lasting physical and mental health issues.”
India needs to re-examine its prison policy immediately, its welfare schemes and correctional services to ensure the mental well-being and effectiveness of the inmates. The government must adopt measures for protective and hygienic conditions in Indian Prisons. The denial of rights and dignity to the prisoners especially with mental health illnesses is not only a violation of human rights and natural rights, but it is a violation of municipal and international law as well. There should also be a separate institution throughout the country for convicts and undertrials. Adults, adolescents, juveniles, women and lunatics are also generally confined in common institution, hence, there should also be a different department in prisons for these people.
The prison authorities should take responsibility and make efforts to ensure the proper supervision and good treatment of prisoners in jail observing the rule of law and protection of their human rights.
Contrary to this position, the very notion that the purpose of putting criminals behind bars is to punish them and inflict pain on them to make them repent for their wrongs is not an appropriate approach. Therefore, the Indian State has a legal, moral and constitutional duty to protect the interests of all prisoners, especially those with mental health issues, and ensure them a life of dignity. The detention of human being does not mean the right to torture or take away human rights, which is against the fair legal justice system. Currently, we need to build better system for rederessal of mental health issues, prisons with better infrasture, and which are equipped enough to deal with problems of different kind of prisoners. We need to adopt a reformative approach to turn criminals into healthy, law-abiding citizens.