This analysis report reveals about the condition of women prisoners in India by a report submitted by Standing Committee on Empowerment of Women with Chair as Ms. Bijoya Chakravart on ‘Women in Detention and Access to Justice’ on December 22, 2017.
The Indian Prison Act, 1894 is the primary legislation for matters dealing with prison governance. Other laws including the Indian Penal Code, 1860, and the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, also provide safeguards against detention, torture, and other crimes during custody. Key observations and recommendations of the Committee include:
Overcrowding of jails
The Committee observed that overcrowding of jails is a serious problem with women jails having more occupancy than capacity. As of December 31, 2015, the number of inmates in central jails was 1,85,182 against the authorised capacity of 1,59,158. This leads to the lack of basic facilities to prisoners such as sanitation, food, and health care in jails. It has also lead to an increase in expenditure for jails.
The Committee observed that one of the key reasons for overcrowding was the delay in trials resulting in many under trials being detained in jails for long periods. A large number of these under trials were petty criminals such as drug offenders, ticketless travellers, and railway alarm chain pullers. To resolve this issue, the Committee recommended that alternative methods should be used for dealing with non-criminal offenders and petty criminals.
The Committee observed that infringement of rights of prisoners as a result of police behaviour during detention, was an important issue. This included cases of rapes and deaths that have taken place in custody. The Committee recommended that better surveillance measures may be put in place to ensure effective prison management. Further, it recommended that there should be greater interface with civil rights activists and their access to people in custody.
Training and recruitment of officials
The Committee stated that in order to ensure gender sensitisation in prison management, officials should be given training to develop positive attitudes towards women prisoners. Further, the Committee recommended that workshops should be conducted to ensure accountability in jail administration.
The Committee also observed that there was a shortage of women officials in prison management, which adversely impacts the management of women inmates. In this regard, the Committee recommended that special recruitment drives should be initiated to fill up such shortages.
The Committee observed that data was not available for common health ailments prevalent among women prisoners. The Committee recommended that surveys be undertaken across prisons, in collaboration with state governments and NGOs, to compile such data. The Committee also noted that there was a shortage of doctors, para-medical staff, and equipment in jails.