Society lives by a set of rules, a code of conduct for everyone to follow and a deviation or violation of this code has consequences for whoever does so. This is how it has worked for ages, but we have come a long way from the ‘eye for an eye’ code of Hammurabi to our current justice system. In recent years, the number of prisoners have drastically increased with a 71% increase in the prison population in India as compared to a 20% increase in the rest of the world since 2000. The shortcomings of the Indian judicial system, specifically the delay in justice with increasing numbers of under trials, has been the major contributor to this explosion in prison population.
While the perpetrator of a crime deserves to be punished for their mistakes, our system ensures the rehabilitation of the offenders unlike the barbaric regimes of Saudi Arabia or Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. This principle of ensuring rehabilitation of the offenders is the sole basis of the entire justice system. However, over the years the prison system has debilitated and is in dire need of reform. It requires massive structural reforms to abide by the international standards set by the United Nations in form of the Nelson Mandela rules.
The problems that this system face are rampant overcrowding due to the slow redressal of cases(under trials), violation of fundamental rights by being made subject to physical and psychological torture and exposure to subhuman living conditions. While this does go against our very morality it also goes against the tenets of the Constitution. With most of these prisoners are under trial and there is no justification for subjecting these people to these conditions as they are ‘innocent until proven guilty’.
Reduction of the overcrowding in prisons could solve most of our problems and this should be top priority for any government while bringing about reform. Primarily, it would require reducing the number of under trials in the nation by ensuring more civil cases opt for alternative dispute resolution mechanisms or fast track courts. Experts have also advocated for the usage of open prisons which has seen significant results in some parts of the country.
Is there any sign of improvement? Well yes. Over the past couple of years there has been an overall shift in the judicial system towards A.D.R mechanisms, an example being the inclusion of mediation to resolve consumer disputes under the Consumer protection Act, 2019. As for open prisons, these prisons allow inmates to reside with families and also earn a daily living however they are restricted in their movement and routine. This programme has been a success in the State of Rajasthan, which has 29 open prisons and the number of convicts that escaped during parole has reduced to merely 1 in 45 convicts. These solutions are cost effective to the state as well as useful in solving problems in the existing system.
Our prisons need to update with times and it requires political will to do so and requires large structural change. It is difficult to achieve however not impossible.
Tags : prisons, overcrowding, open prisons