Updated: Oct 8, 2020


According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “Prison is a place, properly arranged and equipped for the reception of persons who by legal process, recommitted to it for the safe custody while awaiting trial for punishment”.

The prison system dates back to the period of civilization itself. It is a system /method of punishing the culprit for the offender. Prison is a centre where the people who go against the society, state or country or try to harm them are kept to undergo some punishments. The main objective to behind keeping the offenders in the prison is to rehabilitate them so that they can start a new life. And, for some other prisoners, there are provisions of short time imprisonment, life imprisonment and death penalty. Imprisonment is considered to be a contemporary method of dealing with the delinquents since the very beginning. In the present day scenario, the prisons have also began to act as correction facility centres. Thus, prison system and reformatories are considered to be the hindmost part of criminal justice regime. Prisons, in present day context play the role of the reformatories as well. Today, the prisons act more of as a correctional or improvement facility which clearly denotes that more emphasis is being placed on the reformation of prisoners in the form of punishment. To attain the goal, a pleasant atmosphere has to be cultivated in the jails for the benefit of the inmates. Rather than accentuating social and ethical values for the integration of the society after the waiver, inmates require educational, recreational and vocational equipping facilities. This acts as a way of aiding them with alternate sources of livelihood and furlough. In India, the prison reforms were not the outcome of any social movement but were rather the outcomes of the awful conditions of treatment faced by the prisoners during the time of confinement. “The ancient Indian society has demonstrated all the qualities of a given social system. All the sins and crimes that were committed were entitled to secular punishments and supported by the religious sanctions of the Indian society. The state did not perform the function of administering justice during the Vedic period. Usually, the king or an authorized officer would act as a judge and deal with the offences like murder, adultery and theft. But, in reality, the weaker sections of the society were helpless because, the society was a graded one”.

Prison Reforms in India:

The major objective of the prison reforms is to enhance the conditions of the prisoners during the term of their confinement and also to enhance the efficiency of the penal system. It stresses more upon guaranteeing the rehabilitation of all those whose lives have been affected by the crimes.

Prison reforms Prior-independence:

TB Macaulay introduced the Modern Prison system in India, in 1935. A committee known as The Prison Discipline Committee was elected in 1836. The committee submitted its report in 1838. The recommendation made by this committee was that the prisoners should be treated harshly while completely excluding all the humanitarian needs and reforms of the prisoners. The central prisons were constructed from 1846 after the recommendation made by the committee. The contemporary system of prison administration regime in India is thus a bequest of the British rule. The suggestions made by the 2nd commission of inquiry into jail management and discipline in 1864 were similar to the recommendations made by the 1836 committee regarding the settlement for the prisoners, modification in diet and medical care. Another committee named The Jail Reforms Committee of 1919-1920 was appointed under the oversight of Sir Alexander Cardio to suggest measures for prison reforms. The committee gave suggestions regarding the maximum intake capacity should be fixed depending upon its shape and size. This committee gave numerous recommendations like- differential treatment of child offenders, construction of modern jails, division of offenders like women offenders, habitual offenders and etc.

Prison reforms post-independence:

After the independence, the reformation work of the jails had accelerated. Thus, in 1956, the punishment for transportation of life was swapped for imprisonment for life. In 1949, the Pakwasha committee gave the permission to the prisoners for taking up the work of construction of roads an in return, wages would be paid to them. In 1951, Dr. W.C.Reckless (Technical Expert) made certain recommendations on prison reforms. Later, a committee named “All India Jail Manual Committee” was appointed in1957 based on the suggestions made by Dr W. C. Reckless. The main objective of this committee was to examine the problems of prison administration and to suggest modifications that can be uniformly adopted throughout India. The committee further went on to deliver its report in 1960. The committee was configured under the chairmanship of Justice Anand Narain Mulla. In 1986, The Juvenile Justice Act was enacted where, observation homes, special and juvenile homes were set up for the ragged children and the juvenile delinquents. The juveniles however, could not be kept in the prison. In 1987, ‘Justice Krishna Iyer Committee’ was elected to undertake a study on the situation of women prisoners in India. The Supreme Court in its landmark decision in Ramamurthy Vs. State of Karnataka has observed nine major problems which require urgent attention for executing prison reforms. The court has thus discerned that the present prison system is affected with major problems of:

a) Overcrowding

b) Delay in Trial

c) Torture and Ill-treatment

d) Neglect of health and hygiene

e) Prison Vices

f) Deficiency in communication

g) Streamlining of jail visits

h) Insufficient food and adequate clothing

i) Management of open air prisons.

Laws relating to Prison Administration in India:

The administration of prisons in India falls in the hands of state of the state governments, and is governed by the Prisons Act, 1894 and the Prison Manual of the respective state governments. Thus, the states have the primary responsibility and authority to change the current prison laws, rules and regulations. There are a number of legislations that directly or indirectly take charge of the administration and reformation of the prisoners. “The existing statutes which have a bearing on regulation and management of prisons in India are:

i. The Indian Penal Code, 1860;

ii. The Prisons Act, 1894;

iii. The Prisons Act, 1900;

iv. The Identification of Prisoners Act, 1920;

v. Constitution of India, 1950;

vi. The Transfer of Prisoners Act, 1950;

vii. The Representation of People’s Act, 1951;

viii. The Prisoners (Attendance in Courts) Act,1955;

ix. The Probation of Offenders Act, 1958;

x. The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973;

xi. The Mental Health Act, 1987;

xii. The Juvenile Justice ( Care & Protection) Act, 2000;

xiii. The Repatriation of Prisoners Act, 2003;

xiv. Model Prison Manual 2003”.


For ensuring a good domain and conduct, an initial classification must be made to separate male from females, the young from the adults, convicted from the unconvicted prisoners, civil from criminal prisoners and from casual from the habitual prisoners. The main object was to engage them so as to prevent mental damage and to enable them to contribute to the cost of their maintenance. The under trial prisoners are presumed to be the innocent and most of them are discharged or acquitted after immeasurable physical and mental loss caused to them by detention due to delay in investigation and trial. Research and crime and the criminal is still in its infancy. The immediate need of research is to evaluate the existing methods of treatment and to suggest new approaches to the prevention of the crime. The value of probation, open prisons, parole and home leave as reformatory measures need to be established. Prisoners constitute important institutions which protects the society from criminals. The obstacles in prison reforms are resource allocation, the deterrent functions of punishment, the notion of rehabilitation, and internal control.




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