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Prison Reform: The Need for Social Change


There is not even a single society, country, state, or province that is free from crime and criminals. India is also one amongst them with 1.3 billion people belonging to different faith and cultures, every citizen is bounded to some fundamental rights which are mentioned in articles 12 to 35 of the Indian Constitution. If any person from the society goes against the fundamental rights are imposed some punishment according to our jurisprudence. There is different punishment system mentioned in our Indian jurisdiction such as retributive theory, deterrent theory, and reformative theory. Since incarceration and the death penalty are more palatable types of punishment, India is democratic and has already abolished harsh punishments including public hanging, flogging, and whipping, but every person who is imposed with any punishment is sent to imprisonment. A prison is a place where people are kept who have been remanded in custody by a court or who have had their freedom taken away after being found guilty of any crime. Anyone convicted of a crime or a misdemeanor may be obliged to serve time in jail or prison. In some nations, these individuals make up the bulk of the prison population.  According to the NCRB 2019 data,[1] the overall occupancy rate of the national prison is 118.5% which shows that the jail is overpopulated. There is a rise in the prison population every year in the big amount. Such an increase in population can lead to detrimental prison conditions and it also affects the mental, and physical health of the prisoner. It’s critical to understand that crime isn’t always the product of malicious or criminal intent. Greater evils may result if people’s rights to economic, social, political, and cultural freedom are restricted or denied altogether. As a result, the jail system requires additional comprehensive reforms.

Concept of Prison

Prisons go by many different names all over the world, including “Correctional Facilities, “Detention Centres, Jails, and Remand Centres.” Prisons act as a branch of the criminal justice system to punish a miscreant’s abnormal behaviours. Prisons can be defined as detention facilities built by governments to limit the freedom of those who have engaged in illegal activities or have infringed the rights of others to their liberties. The Online Oxford English dictionary defines prison as, “A building to which people are legally committed as a punishment for a crime or while awaiting trial”. In our country prison falls under The Code of Criminal Procedure[2]. The Prisons Act of 1894[3] and the individual State Governments’ Prison Manual govern the management of prisons, which is within the purview of the State Governments. State governments, therefore, have the initial obligation and power to alter the existing jail laws, rules, and regulations.

Why we need Prison Reform

    • Overcrowding In jail

One of the main causes of poor prison conditions is prolonged under-trial detention, inadequate social and rehabilitation programs, lack of access to legal representation for marginalized prisoners, a lack of manpower and inadequate training, corruption, inadequate healthcare, and welfare amenities, and inhumane treatment of prisoners by prison staff, among other factors, is prison overcrowding. The COVID-19 pandemic’s second wave has led to an increase in positive cases in jails and prisons across the nation. In jails across the nation, as many as 2,803 convicts have tested positive for COVID-19[4], and during the second wave of the pandemic since March 2021, nine inmates and one prison staff member have perished from the virus. One of the most susceptible groups in the event of a pandemic is prisoners. The state has a stronger obligation to preserve their right to life and health since they are considered “wards of the state” and are reliant on the authorities for their well-being.

  • Amenities improvement

Jail circumstances may be made better by giving inmates access to wholesome food, clean clothing, and other necessities. The improvement of their facilities must go hand in hand with a focus on the prisoner’s human rights. Reduce the number of inmates holding out for a trial while keeping them separate from offenders. The correctional staff needs to be organized and well-educated. The primary goal must be the offender’s rehabilitation and reformation. The government must work to provide adequate money.[5]


Inmates’ behaviours are significantly influenced by the environment in the jail. Conflicts that are either spontaneous or intentional might occur in an environment that is violent because it heightens emotions and creates stress. Only in a civilized environment can violence in prisons be reduced. The environment in jail can have serious negative health effects on both new detainees who have already been diagnosed with illnesses and older inmates who get illnesses. Things get worse because of traffic, a lack of fresh air, and a balanced diet. The average number of cases outstanding in High Courts climbed from 4.012 million in 2016–17 to 4.425 million in 2018–19, according to the 2020 India Justice Report[6]. In comparison, for the same years, the numbers in lower courts were 28.3 million and 29.7 million.

Rehabilitating or fostering violence

According to the rehabilitation hypothesis, people can improve their self-assurance, cooperation, and independence through a range of programs. Of course, to remove inequality and prejudice, this system functions in conjunction with a thorough set of changes in other fields and industries. Any significant prison improvements must be implemented while keeping in mind the institution’s original goal of inmate reform and rehabilitation. Correctional methods must put more emphasis on rehabilitation than on punishment. It will enable those who were formerly jailed to lead regular lives without turning to crime when accompanied by enough help and support. Prisons have the potential to be either institutions for reformation or breeding grounds for violent, destructive ideas. An ineffective jail system poses a risk to society and wastes money when it fails to turn a criminal into a law-abiding citizen. In Mohammad Giasuddin v. State Of Andhra Pradesh[7], the SC itself stated that a therapeutic rather than an terrorem view should predominate in our criminal courts as cruel detention of the offender just generates laceration of his psyche.

Judicial Developments

With the aid of case law decisions, the Indian judicial system has played a key role in the direction of convicts as well as in ensuring the safety and security of those in custody or inmates.

  • Sunil Batra v. Delhi Administration[8]

According to the Supreme Court, prisoners have a right to every basic freedom that is compatible with their confinement. The Supreme Court stated in Sunil Batra case that “fundamental rights do not flee the persons as he enters the prison although they may suffer shrinkage necessitated by incarceration.” This statement highlights the importance of treating prisoners humanely and protecting their fundamental human rights. The Apex court stated the inmate’s substantive and procedural rights, stating that infliction may assume numerous protean forms aside from physical attacks. Punitive measures may include confining the prisoner to a solitary cell, denying him access to basic amenities, moving him to a location where visits from friends and family may be prohibited, assigning him to a tough gang, or other measures of this nature. Every such association or restriction violates freedom or life in the broadest sense and cannot be upheld.

  • K. Basu v. State of West Bengal[9]

According to the ruling, the friend or relative of the accused must be informed right away that he has been detained. The intention is quite clear: with this communication, the accused’s family members or friends may begin their efforts to learn the facts surrounding the case, seek legal counsel, mount a defence against a request for remand, and make the required preparations for bail, which is unsustainable.

  • Rudul Shah v. State of Bihar[10]

According to the ruling, if a prisoner is found not guilty after a trial, he or she is automatically entitled to immediate release. He cannot be kept within prison walls following a judgment of acquittal.

  • Sanjay Suri v. Delhi Administration[11]

The Supreme Court ruled that for the sake of humanity, prison officials must adjust how they see convicts and uphold their legal rights.


It is a reality that there are several issues in our prisons, even though laws are designed to improve conditions in jails and numerous authorities have studied the issues with prisons in India. Prison personnel’s outlook has to alter prison administration must be characterized by order and respect for the human rights of inmates. Prison reform addresses both the conditions inside of them as well as the actual construction of prisons. Thus, there is a high-time need to shift focus on the human plight of the convicts.

Author(s) Name: Mohd Ayaz Raza (Integral University, Lucknow)


[1] NCRB, Prison Statistics India (2019) <> accessed 19 September 2022

[2] Code of Criminal Procedure 1973

[3] Prisons Act 1894

[4] ‘Token Temporary Measures to Decongest Prisons Can’t Save Inmates from COVID-19’ (The Wire, 21 MAY 2020) <> accessed 19 September 2022

[5] All India Committee, Jail Reform (1980 – 83) <> accessed 20 September 2022

[6] Tata Trust, India Justice Report (2020) <> accessed 19 September 2022

[7] Mohammad Giasuddin v State Of Andhra Pradesh (1978) SCR (1) 153

[8] Sunil Batra v Delhi Administration (1978) 4 SCC 409

[9] D. K. Basu v State of West Bengal (1997) 1 SCC 416

[10] Rudul Shah v State of Bihar (1983) 4 SCC 141

[11] Sanjay Suri v Delhi Administration (1988) AIR 414