Protecting Prisoners’ Rights
Prison reforms are a must
BEHIND THE BARS BY B L SARAF
The Supreme Court of United States has in the case Brown vs Plata found a strong correlation between the prison reforms and the respect for the human rights of an individual. The judgment was delivered in May this year and came in the backdrop of grim prison conditions of the state of California. Some public spirited persons had initiated the action. In insurgency infested areas and somewhere else in India, voices are often raised by the activists against the alleged Human Rights violations, police excesses and inhuman prison conditions – where thousands are put in jail for petty and serious allegations.
In Jammu & Kashmir, the situation is even worse. Therefore, clamor for abatement of Human Rights abuses, a check on the police excesses and initiation of prison reforms is more pronounced. The concern is mostly genuine and needs to be addressed with the matching intensity. Among various factors which constitute violation of Human rights of an individual, condemning him to the sub-human prison conditions is one. The universal jurisprudence has evolved to a point where it is considered a sin to deny even to the prisoner certain inalienable basic human rights. Gone are the days when incarceration was meant to be a penal measure which a jail inmate had to undergo without looking to his civil rights. The argument which considered incarceration as an unavoidable step to keep the criminal locked up has long since lost the potency and legitimacy at the law. Even in custody a citizen does not get denuded of his basic human rights. They must be respected. No wonder these days the treatment given to a prisoner is taken as an appropriate measure to check how civilized and ruled by the law a country is.
It’s no secret that in India and in most of the countries world over the jails are overcrowded. The inmates are generally deprived of adequate medical care, a proper leg room and minimum facilities of basic sustenance. What, however, is appalling is the fact that nearly 70 per cent of the prisoners are the under trials, which should be unacceptable to any civilized society. Well, in this regard India alone is not the culprit. As stated, the problem even plagues countries like United States of America in no less a measure. The situation there is certainly not worth emulating, though that country is a leader in most of the mundane matters. The US Supreme Court observed that a prison which does not provide for the basic sustenance and deprived prisoners of medical care has no place in a civilized society.
Of the various measures proposed to reform the prison conditions and the management, the need to reduce the jail population must be emphasized. The judiciary has, undoubtedly, initiated certain action in this direction. The trial Magistrates have been asked to hold the court in the jail premises to take up the cases of those under trial prisoners who are charged with commission of petty offences, so that their trial is speeded up. The District Judges and Chief Judicial Magistrates of the area pay regular visits to the jails to monitor the situation.
Nonetheless, a prison reform will mean nothing unless there is a corresponding reform in the criminal justice delivery system. The steps initiated by the judiciary no doubt are laudable. But they are not sufficient to meet the challenge. The reform process is the continuous one and the living conditions of the jail mates call for regular monitoring. Here, the Judicial Magistrates and the judges would do better to recall the words of wisdom said by Justice Krishna Iyer in 1980 that the sentencing magistrates and the judges should not wash their hands off once the sentence is pronounced and the convicts are committed to the prison. It is their duty to ensure that their sentencees are treated properly in the prison even after they have delivered them. There is a need to have a law that only those convicted of heinous crimes are sent to the jail. Others should be kept out on probation of good conduct, or in some cases - where feasible – convicts should be let off on payment of fine or compensation. Experience tells us that a prison term does not necessarily mean reduction in crime. In this regard help can be drawn from Bill 109 drafted by the Governor of California, USA which has proposed, among other things, far reaching prison reforms.
In J&K the situation is more alarming. The jails get overcrowded with the passage of every single day. With it a shrill cry is raised about the human rights abuse and ill treatment of inmates of the prisons. Not without a reason- though one can see a lot of improvement in the prison management. We are told that the jails in the state are now called Correctional Homes. We hope they will justify their new name. A jail term should be treated as a reformative process to which a convict is subjected rather emphasize the penal aspect for which conducive conditions should be made available to him.
Lastly, if not for anything else, let the fear of being in prison someday drive the ruling class of politicians and the bureaucrats initiate prison reforms in the right earnestness. Who knows, one day, they may find themselves lodged there. After all who had thought Raja, Kanimozhi, Suresh Kalmadi and Lalu Prasad before them, would ever be the illustrious prison mates of the not so famous.
(The author is the former principal district and session judge. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org )
Lastupdate on : Fri, 24 Jun 2011 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Fri, 24 Jun 2011 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sat, 25 Jun 2011 00:00:00 IST
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