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Speedy trial can become effective tool to address overcrowding in jails: SC

It said the occupancy rate of a total of 1,341 jails in India, including 644 sub-jails, 402 district jails and others prisons stood at 122 per cent as on November 30, 2018

Supreme Court

Press Trust of India New Delhi

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The lodging areas of prisons across the country presented a "pitiful state of affairs", the Supreme Court Committee on Prison Reforms has said, underlining that speedy trial can become an effective tool to address the issue of overcrowding in jails.
In its final synopsis of reports filed in the Supreme Court, the committee headed by former apex court judge Justice (retd) Amitava Roy has said living conditions in jails are not comparable to those envisaged under the Model Prison Manual, 2016 and require urgent and result-oriented attention.
It said the occupancy rate of a total of 1,341 jails in India, including 644 sub-jails, 402 district jails and others prisons stood at 122 per cent as on November 30, 2018.
The panel has referred to some commonly experienced factors contributing to overcrowding in jails, including stagnancy of prison infrastructure against steady increase in inmate flow, lack of initiative and drive of expansion or improvement in prison infrastructure, avoidable arrests and incarceration for petty offences, delay in investigation and trial.
It said 12 states were selected for study in the first preliminary report on overcrowding in prisons and, according to the findings, the highest rate of overcrowding was observed in district prisons (148 per cent) followed by central prisons (129 per cent) and sub-prisons (106 per cent).
The final synopsis of reports dated December 27, 2022 contains nine chapters, including on overcrowding in prisons, unnatural deaths in jails, transgender prisoners and death row convicts.
In September 2018, the top court had constituted a three-member committee headed by Justice (retd) Roy to look at issues involving jail reforms and make recommendations on several aspects, including overcrowding in prisons.
"Overall, an overcrowding rate of 139 per cent was observed in the male prisons of 12 states but spans jail-wise around 104 per cent to 181 per cent," the committee has said in the chapter titled 'Overcrowding in Prisons'.
In its recommendations, the committee has said the Undertrial Review Committee (UTRC) mechanism needs to be strengthened to address the issue of overcrowding.
The UTRCs, set up in every district, deliberate on and recommend the release of undertrial prisoners and convicts who have undergone their sentence or are entitled to be released from jail due to bail or remission granted to them.
"The issue of overcrowding lies majorly with the undertrial population in prisons. Many states have a high number of undertrial prisoners who are languishing in jails for years awaiting their trial," the committee said.
"Speedy trial can become the effective tool to address this issue and hence, following steps can be taken in this regard: (i) special fast track courts to be set up to extensively deal with petty offences and for cases pending for five years or more. This will significantly put a curb on increasing the number of undertrials in prisons," it said.
It said the high courts should direct the District & Sessions Judge to regularly monitor the progress of cases pending in courts where the accused is in custody for more than one year in a session triable case and for more than six months in magistrate triable cases.
"The lodging areas in almost all the jails visited, though in varying degrees, did present a pitiful state of affairs," the panel said.
It said reportedly, many construction projects are pending approval at the higher levels after having been forwarded by the departmental heads.
"Though in one or two jails some semblance of construction activities was visible, the overall pathetic state of the lodging areas prevails," it said, adding the situation is even worse in barracks where women inmates are huddled together in congestion with their children with age varying from a few months to six years, thus exposing them to all kinds of risks and hazards in health and life.
The committee said most of the prisons in the country are teeming with undertrial prisoners highly disproportionate to the number of convicts and speedy trial in courts is one of the major factors that can remedy this "unwanted phenomenon".
It said shortage of staff in prison department across the country needs to be addressed immediately by filling up the existing vacancies.
"There are existing legal provisions of sentencing, alternative to one of imprisonment, for some offences, such as fine, probation and admonition, which are not being used to their full potential by the courts," it said.
"If encouraged, this can go a long way in effectively easing the ill of over-crowding in jails and as well will help greatly, in re-integration of the prisoners in the society," the committee has said.
The apex court, which is hearing a matter related to conditions prevailing in prisons across India, has fixed the case for hearing on September 26.

(Only the headline and picture of this report may have been reworked by the Business Standard staff; the rest of the content is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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First Published: Aug 31 2023 | 6:06 PM IST

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