Overcrowding keeps hurdles to humanize the prisons
An important aspect that should bother the administration of prisons is the overcrowding in prisons. The national crime records bureau (NCRB) in New Delhi brings out the annual publication, ‘prison Statistics India’. As per survey done at the end of 2009, there were 1374 prisons and available capacity was 307052 but the population of inmates was 376969. The occupancy rate is 122.8 percentage which reflects 22.8 percentage of overcrowding in prisons. The category wise distribution of prisoners shows that there are 123941 convicted prisoners and 250204 under trial prisoners and convicted prisoners are 32.9 in the share of prison population and 66.4 percentage as under trial prisoners’ share. This reflects the enormity of the tasks that weigh down the average prison officials considering the large share of under trial prisoners in the prison population. This will definitely jeopardize the reformative programme to humanize the prisons. Our idea is to humanize and not make prisons a comfortable place to which you would like to return after release; actually why conditions in prison are so appalling it is mostly because of the mind set of policy makers in general that prisons need to deter a prisoner from lapsing in to crime again. Prison overcrowding is the fountain head of most of ills. It is a poor consolation that we share this overcrowding problem with many other countries. Obviously, if prison overcrowding has to be brought down the under trial population has to be reduced drastically. This, of course cannot happen without the courts and the police working in tandem. Too many under trial prisoners are a blot on those who administer justice in the countries. Speedy trials are frustrated by a heavy court work load, police inability to produce witness promptly and a recalcitrant defense lawyer who is bent upon seeking adjournments.
Fast track courts have helped to an extent, but have not made a measurable defense to the problem of pendency. Increasing the number of courts cannot bring about a desired difference as long as the court adjournment culture continues. As per the records of NCRB in 2002 nearly 220000 cases took more than three years for trial to be completed and 25600 exhausted 10 years for trial. There is only one way we can take care of the huge under trial backlog. It is to make bail more easily available. A survey of the prison population at any time would reveal a staggering number of those inside prisons who have already spent a term longer than the most rigorous sentence that they could ever be awarded at the end of trial for the offence committed by them .It does not mean that we should extend this liberal bail to those charged with murder/ attempt to murder or rape. Lesser offences merit this treatment for reasons of expediency if not clemency. Several countries have tried a general amnesty, without much of an adverse impact on the overall crime situation. Incidental recidivism in India is at a manageable percent and the trend is on the decline. A combination of liberal bail and a scheme of amnesty for those not facing charge of violence, against either individual or the state and have been incarcerated at least for year is definitely warranted, if jails are to become manageable. One more measure that can at least marginally help to improve the situation is to legislate for alternatives to incarceration. Community service is one option that has been found practical and also effective in paving the path for refining an offender. All these measures work possibly only if there is great political will and sagacity. Unless we march towards with these reforming ideas with good leadership we cannot humanize the prisons for rehabilitating the inmates of prison to the community.
(Reference;1. Front line, Volume 21, issue 26, 18- 31, 2004, R. K. Raghavan. 2. Prison Statitics, 2009, NCRB, Delhi.)