It also directed the undertrial review committees (UTRCs) to meet every month for the first six months of 2019 to review the cases of undertrial inmates and submit reports to the legal services authorities in states.
Set up in every district, UTRCs deliberate and recommend the release of undertrial prisoners as also of those convicts who have undergone the sentence or are entitled to be released due to bail or remission granted to them.
A bench headed by Justice Madan B Lokur took note of the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) data placed before it that while the holding capacity of jails in the country as on December 31 last year was around 3.78 lakh, the actual number of inmates lodged was 4.19 lakh.
The top court is hearing a matter relating to inhuman conditions in 1,382 prisons across India. It is also seized of a separate matter related to speedy trials for undertrial prisoners.
The court noted that as per NALSA's data, the number of inmates in jails were in excess of the holding capacity of the prisons and "overcrowding was particularly acute" in states like Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh and Uttarakhand.
"We have been given to understand that undertrial prisoners constitute of 67 per cent of prison population," it said. "Number of undertrial prisoners are very, very large."
The apex court also took on record the standard operating procedure (SOP) prepared by NALSA for UTRCs and said that it be circulated among the Director General (Prisons) and state legal services authority of all the states and union territories.
On September 25, the court had constituted a three-member committee, headed by former apex court judge Amitava Roy, to look into jail reforms across India and make recommendations on several aspects, including overcrowding.
It had said the 'Supreme Court Committee on Prison Reforms' would also comprise of Inspector General of Police of Bureau of Police Research and Development and Director General (Prisons) of Delhi's Tihar Jail.
It had earlier taken strong exception to overcrowding of jails across the country and said prisoners also have human rights and cannot be kept like "animals".
The court had earlier passed a slew of directions over unnatural deaths in jails and on prison reforms across India.
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