SC lists radical prison reforms, inmates may get more facilities
RELIEF IN ORDER Court asks for ‘circumspection’ in arrests, states told to pay compensation
The Supreme Court on Friday ordered radical prison reforms, including a direction to states to provide telephone and video conferencing facilities for prisoners to enable them to speak with their lawyers and family members.
The order, issued in the wake of unnatural deaths of prisoners being reported from across the country, directs states to award compensation to families of 551 prisoners who died under mysterious circumstances inside jail between 2012 and 2015.
Asking the Centre and states to display “circumspection” while arresting citizens, a bench headed by Justice MB Lokur said the authorities cannot treat prisoners as chattel and incarcerate them without providing facilities.
“No state government can shirk its duties of providing better facilities to prisoners.
“If a state government is unable to do so, it should be far more circumspect in arresting people, particularly undertrials, who constitute the vast majority of those in judicial custody,” the bench said and fixed December 31 as the deadline for compliance of its directives.
The SC began hearing the matter related to inhuman conditions in jails after it received a letter in 2016 written by former Chief Justice of India RC Lahoti.
It drew the top court’s notice to the increasing number of suicidal deaths in prisons.
The top court said states do not have to oppose every bail application nor ask for remand of every suspect pending investigation. It directed Chief Justices of high courts to take cognizance of “unnatural deaths” as revealed in the NCRB data, identify the next of kin of the victims and initiate a hearing in public interest to grant suitable compensation unless already awarded.
States have been asked to appoint services of counsellors and support persons for counselling prisoners, particularly first-time offenders.
The meeting time of inmates with their family members must be extended, the court ordered. State Legal Services Authorities have been asked to conduct a study in respect of overall conditions in prisons and a performance audit.
Availability of medical assistance to prisoners should also be studied.
There are thousands of undertrials in India, many of whom have been in prison for years since they cannot afford lawyers, and end up dying in mysterious circumstances inside the premises.