The pandemic has highlighted the fact that Indian jails are overrun – which has been consistently addressed in the speeches on prison rights
The pandemic has highlighted the fact that Indian jails are overrun – which has been consistently addressed in the speeches on prison rights. Sadly the State has never taken any steps to deal with the issue of overcrowding, even after several recalls.
446,084 people are in prison as a group, 69.4% under trial (innocent, until proven guilty). Moreover, Indian prisons are overpopulated. The 2018 PSI report released by the National Crime Records Bureau states that, Indian prisons have the capacity of 3.96.223 prisoners against 445.084 prisoners. The Supreme Court ordered the formation of a High-Powered Committee, which would resolve the issue of prisons being overcrowded and take actions to protect prisoners. Considering this aspect of prison overcrowding during the pandemic, the Court also instructed Member States to send a reply detailing the measures taken to contain the in the pandemic.
In the grand narration of prison rights, both the order of the Supreme Court and the State's reaction seem to be insufficient. The situation has brought two big issues to light. First, the unsuccessful nature of the 2016 Model Prison Manual provisions that were once drafted to address an epidemic. The second is the state's indifference of the prisoners' mental well being. This is despite,mental health being recognized as a right through legislative provisions aswell as judicial mandate.
While the authorities have failed to comply with the provisions of the Model Prison Manual, 2016, the situation exists, i.e. the issue of the mental health of the prisoners. The issue has been a matter of debate in several legal statements but in the current COVID 19 pandemic discourse, there appears to be an egligible debate on prisoners' mental health.
The pandemic has again highlighted the overcrowding of Indian prisons – which has been highlighted over and over in the discourse of discussions and processes on the subject of prison rights. Sadly, the state never took any action to fix the overcrowding problem even after several recalls. A short-term response by the State cannot provide the solution to such a problem. The construction of new prisons is a long-term undertaking. The problem, however, needs to be tackled after the pandemic. However, the State (prison authorities) urgently needs to deal with the issue of prisoners' mental health, it is high time to comply with the same.
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