Prisoners’ Rights

“The poor, illiterate and weaker sections in our society in our country suffer day in and day out in their struggle for survival and look to those who have promised them equality- social, political and economic…a very large number of under–trial prisoners suffer prolonged incarceration even in petty criminal matters merely for the reason that they are not in a position, even in bailable offences, to furnish bail bonds and get released on bail.”- Ex-Chief Justice of India Adarsh Sein Anand, November 1999

According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), almost 68% of all inmates in the 1,400 jails in the country are undertrials. Over 40% of all undertrials remain in jail for more than six months before being released on bail and over 65% are held in custody for more than 3 months.

The prison system is overpopulated by 250% and cells of 8×10 feet frequently house 21 people, contrary to the UN specification of approximately 6×12 feet per person. The major problems faced by the prison inmates include not being granted bail, long detention of those awaiting trial, inadequate opportunities for prisoners to communicate with counsel, administrators, and family, visiting rights being curbed, overcrowding, poor sanitary conditions, and inadequate food and clothing. Because of such inhuman conditions, HIV, tuberculosis, and other vector borne diseases and infections are rife, while medical treatment is deficient, especially in relation to poor inmates.

A total of 1,584 deaths in jails were reported during the year 2015. Incidents of prison abuse and torture are very common and often go unreported.

HRLN, under the Prisoners Rights Initiative, works for the improvement of conditions of the prisoners, facilitates their release on bail, safeguards access to a fair and speedy trial, and files petitions in the Courts to ensure that the prisoners’ human rights are safeguarded.

What HRLN Does

The Prisoners’ Rights Initiative, in confluence with advocates and social activists working all across India, works for the release of prisoners, especially indigent ones, who are or have been undergoing trials and languishing in prisons for a long period of time. For this purpose, it files bail applications, as well as applications on personal bonds, in cases where indigent prisoners are unable to pay for the surety amount.

Since this initiative deals with problems faced by prisoners, HRLN advocates regularly visit jails and collect case details from the prisoners. Apart from providing assistance to prisoners to ensure their safe and timely release, the initiative’s constant endeavor is to safeguard their rights, while in custody. Once the prisoners have been released, the initiative aims at providing facilities so that they are able to get in touch with their family; it counsels them and their families and helps the prisoner reach his/her home safely.

HRLN advocates not only fight for indigent prisoners, but also women prisoners, prisoners with disabilities, and juveniles. In addition, HRLN has held many regional and National level Consultations whereby advocates and social activists working with NGOs all across the country have come together to discuss the issues faced by the prison inmates and have collectively proposed solutions to combat problems faced by the prisoners.

Main Concerns

·      70% prisoners are undertrials, and are mostly indigent.
·      Even though bail is granted, prisoners are not released,
as they are unable to pay the surety amount.
·      High amount of surety ordered
by courts which indigent prisoners can’t pay.
·      Rejection of personal bond applications, as indigent prisoners don’t have proper addresses/houses.
·      Lack of sufficient provision of medical aid to prisoners.
·      Callous and insensitive attitude of jail authorities.
·      Lack of proper legal aid services.
·      Corruption and other malpractices.

HRLN Impact

HRLN, through its state units, has been able to release thousands of indigent prisoners, and has helped them with free legal aid services. Its lawyers have been working in Chhattisgarh, Delhi, West Bengal, Maharashtra, Manipur, Assam, Odisha, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, among other states, where they have been fighting for the basic rights of prisoners. So far, through HRLN intervention in Delhi prisons alone, over 5000 persons have been released on bail and an equal number have been provided with legal advice and representation. Many juveniles that have been languishing in adult jails have been released or transferred to Juvenile Homes.

HRLN’s basic aim, right from the start, has been to gradually achieve systemic change and reform so legal aid for undertrials is institutionalized from the point of arrest, and also to raise awareness of prison conditions and the problems faced by undertrials. Towards this end, it has worked with the State Legal Services Authorities (SLSAs) in some States and the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA). For example, in Delhi, HRLN lawyers have been enrolled with the Delhi State Legal Service Authority (DSLSA) and visit prisons and some observations homes for women.

The initiative has filed various PILs in Maharashtra, West Bengal, UP, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and Delhi, among others, where it managed to procure the successful release of prisoners, and had inquiries ordered by Courts to look into cases of custodial deaths. It has also approached the Supreme Court on issues of mass release of prisoners, improvement of legal services, and commutation of death penalty. Besides, HRLN has also been advocating for having an independent monitoring authority in each prison in Delhi, to ensure that the prisons are transparent in their functioning, and are not discriminatory in their approach towards different categories of prisoners.

HRLN has held some regional workshops for training lawyers and four National level Consultations for advocates and social activists. As an outcome of the 3rd National Consultation on Prisoners’ Rights, Legal Aid and Prison Reform held in March 2016, a National Forum for Prison Reforms was established, which has as its members the following organisations – Human Rights Law Network (HRLN), Tata Institute for Social Sciences (TISS), Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), International Bridges to Justice India (IBJ India), Multiple Action Research Group (MARG), and Lawyers for Human Rights International (LFHRI). Through the National Forum for Prison Reforms, various interventions have been made in the Supreme Court of India in the Writ Petition (Civil) 406 of 2013, Re- Inhuman Conditions in 1382 Prisons, which has transformed the way prisoners’ rights issues have been viewed in the country and has paved the way forward for making the prisons more accountable and more transparent in their functioning.
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