GS Mains Model Question & Answer: Write a note on prison
reform and administration of criminal justice in India
Q. Write a note on prison reform and
administration of criminal justice in India. (12.5 Marks)
(General Studies Mains Paper IV– Probity in Governance: Philosophical
basis of governance and probity)
Model Answer :
Why promote prison reform ?
The detrimental impact of imprisonment, not only on individuals but on
families and communities, and economic factors also need to be taken into
account when considering the need for prison reforms.
- Human rights considerations
- Imprisonment and poverty
- Public health consequences of imprisonment
- Detrimental social impact
- The cost of imprisonment
The overcrowding of prisons in the country is a long-standing
problem that is seldom addressed effectively. Even though the Supreme Court has,
from time to time, raised the issue of prison reforms in general, and that of
overcrowding in particular, measures to decongest jails have been sporadic and
The issue is once again in the news, with the Supreme Court
bemoaning that prisons in Delhi and nine States have an occupancy rate of 150
per cent of their capacity. The average occupancy in all jails in the country
was 117.4 per cent, as of December 31, 2014. What makes the picture bleaker is
that there is little change even though the court has passed a series of interim
orders to the States on measures to decongest prisons.
In particular, the court this year spelt out steps that the
authorities should take to reduce prison occupancy. Cramped conditions in prison
militate against the prisoner’s right to good health and dignity. Further, as
pointed out by the amicus curiae in this case, an excessive prison population
creates problems of hygiene, sanitation, management and discipline. Of equal
concern are the available staff strength and the level of training they receive.
It is unedifying to note that not one State or Union
Territory has bothered to prepare a plan of action, as directed by the court
five months ago, to reduce crowding and to augment infrastructure so that more
space is available to each prisoner. The court received some information about
proposals for constructing additional jails, but has found that these are only
ad hoc proposals, with no indication of either a time frame or the resources
provided for building these facilities.
The court’s sense of disquiet is understandable, as many
States seem to ignore the obvious mismatch between the extent to which they keep
the law and order machinery active and the space and resources provided for
those jailed under such action. Last year, it was found that a little over
two-thirds of India’s prisoners were undertrials.
Poverty remains the main reason for this, as most prisoners
are unable to execute bail bonds or provide sureties. Since 2014, there is some
effort to invoke Section 436A of the Code of Criminal Procedure, under which
undertrials who have completed half of the maximum jail term specified for their
offences may be released on personal bonds. But much more needs to be done.
Failing to address the problem of crowded jails may prove costly for the
administration of criminal justice.
Crime and violence constitute a major impediment for
development and social integration for a plural society like India. The
adversarial model of criminal justice, with punishing the offender as its only
aim, has proved costly and counterproductive. Communities have to be involved
and victims given rights in finding ways to correct the wrong. While keeping the
adversarial system for certain serious and complex offences, India needs to
experiment with more democratic models aimed at reconciliation and restoration
Restorative justice is a welcome idea particularly in the
matter of juvenile justice, property offences, communal conflicts, family
disputes, etc. What is needed is a change of mindset, willingness to bring
victims to the centre stage of criminal proceedings and to acknowledge that
restoring relationships and correcting the harm are important elements of the
criminal justice system.
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