‘Pris­on­ers can­not be treated as chat­tels’

The Supreme Court on Fri­day is­sued a slew of di­rec­tions on prison re­forms, not­ing that un­nat­u­ral cus­to­dial deaths were “not a sad, but tragic state of af­fairs”

The New Indian Express - - FRONT PAGE -

DI­REC­TIONS TO HIGH COURTS

Reg­is­ter suo motu pe­ti­tions to iden­tify kin of pris­on­ers who died un­nat­u­ral deaths between 2012 and 2015 and there­after, and award them suit­able com­pen­sa­tion Set up open prisons, pre­vent over­crowd­ing Let pris­on­ers take up reg­u­lar jobs, leave jail in the morn­ing and re­turn by evening af­ter work

WHAT STATES WILL HAVE TO DO

Ap­point coun­sel­lors for pris­on­ers, par­tic­u­larly first-time of­fend­ers Study avail­abil­ity of med­i­cal as­sis­tance to pris­on­ers, take re­me­dial steps where nec­es­sary Con­duct train­ing and sen­si­ti­sa­tion pro­grammes for se­nior jail of­fi­cials Study con­di­tions and fa­cil­i­ties in jails

DI­REC­TIONS TO THE CEN­TRE

Con­sider ex­tend­ing time/ fre­quency of pris­on­ers’ meet­ings with fam­ily/lawyers Ex­plore pos­si­bil­ity of us­ing phones/video con­fer­enc­ing for com­mu­ni­ca­tion For­mu­late pro­ce­dures to tab­u­late the num­ber of un­nat­u­ral deaths in child-care in­sti­tu­tions

The dig­nity of the in­di­vid­ual is not a play­thing for those in author­ity Supreme Court

This is not a sad but a tragic state of af­fairs in­di­cat­ing the ap­par­ent dis­dain of the state to the life and lib­erty of in­di­vid­u­als, par­tic­u­larly those in cus­tody The Supreme Court

IN a stern mes­sage that dig­nity of an in­di­vid­ual is not a play­thing for those in author­ity, the Supreme Court Fri­day asked all high courts to reg­is­ter a suo motu pe­ti­tion to iden­tify kin of pris­on­ers who ad­mit­tedly died an un­nat­u­ral death af­ter 2012 and award suit­able com­pen­sa­tion to them and es­tab­lish open prisons as a mea­sure to usher in re­forms for in­mates and to also pre­vent over­crowd­ing.

Re­ly­ing on Na­tional Crime Records Bu­reau (NCRB) data between 2012 to 2015, a bench of jus­tices M B Lokur and Deepak Gupta passed a slew of di­rec­tions on jail re­forms and di­rected all states to ap­point coun­selors and sup­port per­sons for coun­selling pris­on­ers, par­tic­u­larly first-time of­fend­ers.

Stat­ing that cus­to­dial death is a crime and such in­ci­dents in­di­cate the ap­par­ent dis­dain of the state to the life and lib­erty of pris­on­ers, the bench said, “We re­quest the Chief Jus­tice of the high court to reg­is­ter a suo motu pub­lic in­ter­est lit­i­ga­tion with a view to iden­tify the next of kin of pris­on­ers who have ad­mit­tedly died an un­nat­u­ral death as re­vealed by the NCRB dur­ing the pe­riod between 2012 and 2015 and even there­after and award suit­able com­pen­sa­tion, un­less ad­e­quate com­pen­sa­tion has al­ready been awarded.”

“The con­sti­tu­tional courts can go on de­liv­er­ing judg­ment af­ter judg­ment on this is­sue and award com­pen­sa­tion, but un­less the state re­alises that cus­to­dial death is it­self a crime and mon­e­tary com­pen­sa­tion is not nec­es­sar­ily the only ap­pro­pri­ate re­lief that can be granted to the next of kin of the de­ceased, such un­nat­u­ral deaths will con­tinue un­abated,” the bench said.

It also di­rected all states to ex­am­ine the avail­abil­ity of med­i­cal as­sis­tance to pris­on­ers and take re­me­dial steps wher­ever nec­es­sary. The bench asked the sec­re­tary gen­eral of the apex court to sent a copy of its ver­dict to the reg­is­trar gen­eral of ev­ery high court within a week.

“If the fun­da­men­tal right to life and lib­erty was to be given its true mean­ing, the Cen­tre and the state gov­ern­ments must ac­cept the re­al­ity and not pro­ceed on the ba­sis that pris­on­ers could be treated as chat­tel,” the bench ob­served in its 43-page judg­ment.

The court also di­rected the Min­istry of Women and Child De­vel­op­ment to dis­cuss with the of­fi­cials con­cerned of the state gov­ern­ments and for­mu­late pro­ce­dures for tab­u­lat­ing the num­ber of chil­dren (if any) who suf­fer an un­nat­u­ral death in child care in­sti­tu­tions where they are kept in cus­tody ei­ther be­cause they are in con­flict with the law or be­cause they need care and pro­tec­tion. The court ob­served that un­less the state changes its mind­set and takes steps to give mean­ing to life and lib­erty of ev­ery pris­oner, jail re­forms could never be ef­fec­tive.

The court di­rected the Cen­tre to en­sure cir­cu­la­tion of its model prison man­ual, a mono­graph pre­pared by the Na­tional Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion on sui­cides in prisons, and the Nel­son Man­dela Rules and guide­lines on in­ves­ti­gat­ing deaths in cus­tody is­sued by the In­ter­na­tional Com­mit­tee of the Red Cross within one month to prison in­charges of ev­ery states.

It asked the states to con­duct train­ing and sen­si­ti­sa­tion pro­grammes for se­nior po­lice of­fi­cers of all prisons on their func­tions, du­ties and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and the rights and du­ties of pris­on­ers. The bench di­rected the gov­ern­ment to con­sider ex­tend­ing the time or fre­quency of meet­ings by the fam­ily of a pris­oner and ex­plore the pos­si­bil­ity of us­ing phones and video con­fer­enc­ing for com­mu­ni­ca­tion, also with their coun­sel.

It asked the states to con­duct a study on over­all con­di­tions in jails and the fa­cil­i­ties avail­able. It also said that sug­ges­tions re­gard­ing es­tab­lish­ment of open jails was cer­tainly worth con­sid­er­ing by states.

The bench is hear­ing a 2013 PIL on pre­vail­ing in­hu­man con­di­tions in 1,382 prisons across the coun­try.

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