The condition of the jails in India is deplorable even in comparison to any of its other basic public facilities. The money spent on jail reforms and development of their basic amenities is negligible by comparison to the amount spent renovating the residences of “honourable” ministers and restructuring their legislative assemblies. The government of India organizes welfare schemes for cows, but ignores the plight of millions of citizens languishing in custody under horrifying conditions.
It is common to find convicts and pre-trial prisoners held together in crowded cells, without proper facilities for basic human existence like fresh air, moving space, decent food, clothing, medical attention and communication. Many experience murder, torture and other abuses at the hands of cellmates and the authorities. This article outlines just a few of the daily abuses that go on within India’s prisons, based on the personal observations of the author, and authoritative accounts by others.
The Prisoners Act of 1900 (Act No. 3 of 1900) regulates India’s prisons and all aspects of prisoner management to this day. State governments may also legislate wherever permitted by this Act. Apart from the Prisoners Act, all states except for Nagaland have acts on children that provide for management of juvenile prisoners.
Despite having legislation to protect juvenile prisoners, children committed to prisons in India experience extreme cruelty and neglect. Many are locked away with hardcore criminals; by the end of their sentences they have been molded into repeat offenders. These children may be sexually abused and compelled to do hard labour. Often they must work alongside elder convicts, who make the young ones do the heavy work allotted to them. This happens in connivance with jail officials. It also goes on despite a Supreme Court ruling that care be taken to ensure such practices do not occur:
There is possibility of contact between the hardened criminals and the juvenile delinquents if there is no proper segregation in assignment of work. We direct that due care shall be taken to ensure that the juvenile delinquents are not assigned work in the same area where regular prisoners are made to work. Care should be taken to ensure that there is no scope for their meeting and having contacts… (All India Reporter 1988, Supreme Court, p. 414)
Legal provisions for counseling of children are often ignored. The government does not concern itself with appointing mental health professionals to vacant posts, and where it does invariably the persons filling them are inexperienced and ill-motivated, and so the very purpose of counseling is defeated. Children are frequently denied access to their parents, causing unnecessary mental trauma. It is also common for prison officials to demand ‘gifts’ from parents coming to meet their young ones.