Prison structure and prison management in India

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Prison structure and prison management in India

There were three types of prisons in India till two decades ago: maximum security prisons, medium security prisons, and minimum security prisons. The medium security prisons were called Model Jails. Of two such prisons in India, one was located at Lucknow and the other at Ajmer. But both have now been converted in central jails.

The three important characteristics of model jails which distinguished them from the maximum security prisons were: panchayati-raj system (in which the management of the jails is vested in the inmates), the wage system (in which the inmates were paid wages for the work assigned to them) and the canteen system (in which the jail canteen run by the inmates on no profit no loss basis provided essential things of daily use, like tea, oil, soap, bidis, etc. to the inmates within the jail itself).

These jails had introduced some new training programmes also for the inmates. The jails were supposed to function as models for central jails in the states. However, the panchayat system created many administrative problems in these jails and the canteens also incurred losses. This forced the authorities to convert the model jails in central jails.

The minimum security jails are called open jails or wall-less prisons. They still function in many states. The detailed description of these jails is given elsewhere in this chapter.

The maximum security jails in India are of four types: central jails, district jails, subjails, and special jails. The central jails are meant for the offenders imprisoned for more than one year, district jails for offenders imprisoned for three to six months and sub jails for offenders sentenced to less than three months' imprisonment.

Special jails are meant for juveniles, females and political prisoners. Central jails function as correctional institutions while the district and the subjails function as punitive institutions. The number of central jails in every state in India varies from one to six. The district jails are located at the headquarters of districts or subdivisions, and are classified as 'A' category, 'B' category, and 'C' category district jails.

Inspector General or Director General of Prisons (IGP or DGP) is the overall incharge of all jails in a state. He is assisted by Deputy Inspector General of Prisons (DIGP). A central jail is in the charge of an officer of superintendent rank and a district jail of deputy superintendent rank. Each jail has jailors and wardens. In central jails, some inmates are promoted as convict officers (COs).

The minimum conditions for appointing a CO are more than one year's imprisonment and completion of at least one-fourth of the total term of sentence. Such prisoners who are convicted of excise offence, poisoning, forgery, vagrancy, unnatural offence, and counterfeiting of currency notes are not eligible for the post of a CO.

The COs are further categorised as convict watchmen (CW), convict overseers (CO), and convict wardens (CW). A convict watchman is promoted as convict overseer if he has served as watchman for at least three months and has completed one-third of the total imprisonment.

The convict overseer is promoted as convict warden if he has served as convict overseer at least for four months. The COs is assigned supervisory work in jail.

They also get special remission (5 days per month as CW, 6 days per month as CO, and 7 days per month as CW). Since most of the corruption in jails is attributed to COs, some jail reforms committees have recommended abolition of these posts. However, in practice, these COs continue to operate in jails.

A central jail is divided in wards and a ward into barracks. The number of wards in each prison varies from 8 to 15 and the number of barracks in each ward varies from 3 to 4. Each barrack accommodates 30 to 50 prisoners. In an emergency, this number increases to even a hundred. There are cells (kothris) for the condemned offenders.

The total number of jails in India in 1986 was about 1,100 while at present (in 2000), it could be between 1,200 and 1,400 (see, Report of National Expert Committee on Women Prisoners, 1986: 135-36). Of these, about 98 per cent are maximum security jails and 2 per cent (1.6% exactly) are minimum security jails.

Of the total maximum security jails in the country, about 7 per cent are central jails, 20 per cent district jails, 53 per cent sub jails, 1 per cent (0.6%) women jails, 1 per cent (0.7%) juvenile jails, and 18 per cent other jails.

The total number of offenders admitted to prisons every year is about 4 lakh, but excluding those who are released every year, the total annual prison population remains at about 2.3 lakh. Of these, 30 per cent are convicts and 70 per cent are under trials. In Uttar Pradesh, for example, the ratio of convicts vis-a-vis under trials which was 1:2 in 1947 became 1:5 in 1991 and 1:7 in 1997 (The Hindustan Times, April 25, 1998).

According to a survey conducted in the second half of the 1990s by 'World watch' organisation, the highest number of prisoners in the world is found in America, followed by China, Russia and India. The number of prisoners in jails in 1998 in America was described as 17 lakhs, in China: 14.10 lakh and in India 2, 31,325.

The number of prisoners per one lakh population was 687 in Russia, 645 in USA, 39 in Japan, 37 in Bangladesh, 29 in Nepal, 24 in India and 20 in Indonesia. (Rajasthan Patrika, May 28, 2000).

Of the convicted offenders in India, 80 per cent get less than six months' imprisonment, 13 per cent six months to two years, and 7 per cent more than two years. In other words, more than 90 per cent are short-termers, and less than 10 per cent long-termers.

Of the total prisoners (including under trials), about 1 per cent are below 16 years of age, 12 per cent are between 16 and 21 years age, and 87 per cent are above 21 years of age (see, National Expert Committee Report on Women Prisoners, 1986: 141-43).

The break-tip of those above 21 years (i.e., 87%) is found to be as follows: 42 per cent are between 21 and 30 years of age, 30 per cent are between 30 and 40 years, 13 per cent between 40 and 60 years, and 2 per cent above 60 years.

Thus, about two-thirds prisoners (72%) belong to 2140 years age group, or are young offenders. About 45 per cent have agricultural background and about 33 per cent are literate.

Of the under trials in jails, about 75 per cent remain under trial for less than six months, about 15 per cent for 6-12 months, about 7 per cent for 1-2 years, about 2 per cent for 2-3 years, and about 1 per cent for more than three years (ibid.: 144-45).


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