The Supreme Court’s judicial activism for protecting the rights of prison inmates and detenues is discernible from a series of cases decided by the Court. Thus in Prabhakar Pandurang v. State of Maharashtra, the Apex Court ruled that detention in prison cannot deprive the detenu of his fundamental rights.
In the same breathe, the Supreme Court in D. Â. M. Patnaik v. State of A.P., held that mere detention is no ground for suspension of detenu’s fundamental rights. In its historic judgment in Sunil Batra v. Delhi Administration, the Apex Court held that prisoners are entitled to all fundamental rights which are consistent with their incarceration.
Emphasising the need for humane treatment of prisoners and protection of their basic human rights, the Supreme Court in Sunil Batra II, observed as follows:—
“Fundamental rights do not flee the persons as he enters the prison although they may suffer shrinkage necessitated by incarceration.”
Outlining the substantive and procedural rights to which the prisoners are entitled, the Apex Court said.
“Infliction may take many protean forms apart from physical assaults. Pushing the prisoner into a solitary cell, denial of necessary amenity, and more dreadful sometimes, transfer to a distant prison where visits or society of friends or relations may be snapped, allotment of degrading labour, assigning him to a desperate or tough gang and the like, may be punitive in effect. Every such affiliation or abridgment is an infraction of liberty or life in its wider sense and cannot be sustained.”
The Court concluded that torture is a tradition in many penal institutions. That is why as a matter of policy, Articles 8 and 9 of the Declaration of the Protection of all persons from torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of punishment adopted by UN General Assembly should be implemented by all nations.
In Hussainara Khatoon, the Supreme Court observed that a procedure which does not make legal services available to a poor undertrial person cannot be regarded as just, fair and reasonable and therefore, violative of right to legal aid of the poor accused as contemplated by Art. 21 of the Constitution. The Court in this case ordered release of those undertrials who were languishing in jails for an inordinately long period.
In Sheela Barse v. State of Maharashtra, the Supreme Court on a complaint of custodial violence to women prisoners in jails, directed that those helpless victims of prison injustice should be provided legal assistance at the State cost and protected against torture and maltreatment.
In Sanjay Suri, the Apex Court held that the prison authorities should change their attitude towards prison inmates and protect their human rights for the sake of humanity.
Interestingly, some penologists have advocated the need of spiritual training for those who are condemned and incarcerated in prison cells. They strongly believe that the practice of yoga and meditation will enable the prisoners to control the evils of Kama, Krodha, Madh, Moha and Lobha, which dwell in human beings and help them in gaining control over these evil forces so as to turn them a good man and a good citizen.
This is indeed a new approach to penological problem of crime and criminals in the Indian setting. As rightly observed by Mr. Justice Ram Pal Singh of the High Court of Madhya Pradesh, “human body is a temple where the deity of Atma and Parmatma reside. For keeping the temple of flesh and blood, the abode of good and bad, the sages and saints have prescribed Sadhna by regular practice of yoga which shall keep the human body not only healthy and strong, but also neat, clean and pure.
Healthy people would avoid crime and try to do good to the society by establishing peace and tranquillity”. The practice of yoga in prisons can considerably help in prevention and control of crimes and reformation of hardened criminals. Undoubtedly, the idea is laudable and must be adopted into practice.
As regards the importance of prayers in prison institutions, suffice it to say that it provides sufficient spiritual strength to the inmates to change their human and social outlook. The experiment carried out in the Tihar Jail sometimes in 1993-94 when Vipassana meditation was introduced in a big way, brought about a big change in the living and thinking of the prisoners, as narrated by Shri Tarsem Kumar, the then Superintendent of the Jail in his book entitled Freedom Behind Bars.
More recently, the Gujarat State Prison Administration has launched a ‘Prison Reform’ programme seeking to bring about reformation of jail inmates through daily Bhajans and Yoga practice. The Sabarmati and Vadodara Central Jails have started a two-months long creative programme of Yoga and Bhajans which is conducted by the Prajapita Brahma Kumaris Ishwariya Vishwa Vidyalaya to teach moral and ethical values to the jail inmates and thus encourage them to live a better life.
The programme has also been introduced in Nadiad Central Jail in March, 2001. The programme emphasises on ways to bring about a change in the attitude of the prisoners by developing their inner strengths and bringing about a spiritual awakening in them. Yoga, Bhakti Sangeet and Toknritya’ are obviously an essential part of the rehabitative programme.
Explaining the philosophy underlying this prison reform programme, Shri B.K. Niranjana of the Bramha Kumaris Seva Kendra, Baroda observed that, “a person often commits a crime because of anger, hatred or a feeling of rivalry or revenge.” In order to help such offenders, it is essential to control their emotions.
Besides, pessimistic feelings like tension, failure or anxiety also add to their woes. A majority of prisoners repent for their crime and they sincerely want to mend their ways but often lack necessary inspiration or the spirit. It is therefore, essential to enlighten such people by inculcating in them values of morality and ethics so that they get the inner strength to distinguish between good and bad.
An atmosphere of devotion, meditation and spiritualism will certainly help the prisoners to become better human beings. This improvised Indian approach to prison reforms will surely bring about a positive change in the attitude of prison inmates and help in their rehabilitation.
It hardly needs to be reiterated that remedial rights of prisoners require deeper understanding. The real problem is not with the principles but with their implementation. The Supreme Court and the High Courts have been gradually exercising jurisdiction in assuring prison justice including improvement in the quality of food and amenities, payment of appropriate wages, necessary arrangement for health-care of prisoners etc. The States often take the plea of financial constraints in assuring these constitutional remedies to prison inmates but this cannot be accepted as a valid ground for excuse, else the very purpose of constitutional and human rights would be eroded.
Like prisons, the conditions of police lock-ups are still worse. Justice Mulla Committee on Jail Reforms, in its Report of March 1983 pointed out:
“Most of the lock-ups have insufficient accommodation and are without even such basic facilities as lavatories, light, water and ventilation. Sanitary conditions in these lock-ups are also utterly unsatisfactory. There seems to be no rules or scales prescribed for the diet or bedding for those detained in lock-ups. There are no visiting committees which would inspect or report about the conditions prevailing in these lock-ups. The essential requirements of law with regard to the time-limit for keeping in custody persons arrested without warrant are often flouted…… conditions of police lock-ups need to be urgently improved.”
With a view to improving the plight of women prisoners in jail, the Supreme Court’s directives stated in Sheela Barse v. State of Maharashtra, deserve particular mention. They are briefly stated as follows:—
1. Female prisoners and suspects should be guarded by female guards or women constables. Obviously, they should be separated from male wards.
2. Interrogation of women should be carried out in presence of women officials.
3. Intimation regarding arrest of a woman offender must be immediately given to her relatives.
4. Information of such arrest must be immediately sent to the nearest Legal Aid Committee.
Finally, it need not be stressed that efforts for rehabilitation of an offender begin from the time he enters the prison. A comprehensive prison programme is therefore, essential to cater to the needs of different categories of inmates. The prison-life should be so regulated that the prisoner is able to overcome all his psychological strains and adapts himself as a law abiding citizen after his release from jail.
It is always preferable to place the released prisoner under the supervision and guidance of a Probation Officer for his after-care and rehabilitation in the free community. The welfare officers appointed in prisons can also play an important role in providing adequate counselling, legal help and financial assistance to the prisoners at the time of their release so that they are properly rehabilitated in society.
It must be remembered that the role of prisons has radically changed over the years and they are no longer regarded as mere custodial institutions instead, they have now acquired a new dimension as treatment and training centre’s for those who fall foul with law. The emphasis has thus shifted from custody to training and re-education of offenders and the policy of segregation now stands substituted by community-participation of prisoners.
It has been realised that protection of society can be better ensured if the offenders are corrected and reformed within the society itself. To talk about treatment and training in prisons is not rhetoric; it can prove to be real, given the zeal and determination. There is need to improve the prison system by introducing new techniques of management and by apprising the prison staff with their constitutional obligations towards prisoners.
This would surely end the gloom cast on our prison system and create new awakening among the prison community. In order to ameliorate the condition of prisoners, the Supreme Court has laid certain mandates which would certainly go a long way in improving the working conditions of Indian Prisons.