• Ananya Singh (Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies) 


The article discusses the importance of upholding prisoners’ rights in India within the context of human rights principles. It highlights issues such as inadequate healthcare, sanitation, food, and instances of torture or deaths in prisons. The text emphasizes the need for reforms in the criminal justice system, including revising laws related to arrest, bail, and trial procedures to ensure fair treatment of detainees.

One major concern raised is the unequal access to rights based on socioeconomic status, where those from impoverished backgrounds often lack the means to avail themselves of legal protections enjoyed by the elite. This inequality further exacerbates the challenges faced by marginalized individuals within the criminal justice system.

Additionally, the article addresses the confusion among trial judges regarding punitive versus rehabilitative approaches to incarceration, emphasizing the importance of respecting inmates’ constitutional and human rights. It also discusses various Supreme Court decisions pertaining to prisoners’ rights.

The piece underscores the significance of prisons in the criminal justice system while acknowledging the need for improvements in their administration. It suggests that reforms should extend beyond legal amendments to include changes in jail manuals and practices.

Overall, the article calls for greater attention to prisoners’ human rights in India and highlights the role of the National Human Rights Commission in advocating for their betterment.


Prisoners also have basic rights, such as the right to privacy, the right to life and private liberty, the right to be measured with human dignity, the right to health and medical care, the right to a swift trial, and so on.

 The Jail Reforms Committee 1980-83 presented more ideas regarding inmate liberties, and the council appears to have been driven and influenced by legal proclamations on many problems. The board has proposed the inclusion of the following privileges in the proposed plan of ‘Public Prison Legislation’:

1. The right to be held up appropriately based on proper classification.

2. Young prisoners have an exceptional right to be segregated from adult inmates.

3. Freedoms of female captives.

4. The right to an adequate climate.

5. Right to bail.

6. Proceed to the quick preliminary.

7. The right to free, legitimate governments.

8. Right to basic essentials such as food, water, and a safe home.

9. The right to conduct interviews with one’s lawyer.

10. The right not to be imprisoned for more than the length of the court-imposed sentence.

11. The right to be protected from being forced into sexual activity.

12. Right against the inconsistent use of handcuffs and shackles.

13. Right against pain, violent, and degrading discipline.

14. Right not to be punished with isolation for a prison offence.

15. Right against uneven jail discipline.

16. Right to express problems and receive a powerful remedy.

17. Right to file a writ of habeas corpus against jail officials for overabundances.

18. Right to be compensated for violations of human rights.

19. Detainees’ relatives have the right to see and access them.

20. Right to write letters to loved ones and receive letters, periodicals, and so forth.

21. Right to recover and reform projects.

22. Right to inmates’ employment and imprisonment pay.

23. Right to information about prison rules.

24. Right to emergency and appropriate medical treatment.

However, all of the aforementioned benefits are widely regarded by correctional organisations, but the true test is their poor execution. In India, several reformative initiatives by the public authority have been implemented to improve the general condition of convicts, although the conditions are far from pleasant. It is well documented that these benefits are not always granted to inmates. There are several Supreme Court and High Court cases that demonstrate how detainees’ rights are violated. 

The decision highlighted the profoundly unacceptable conditions that prevailed inside the prisons, as well as the failure of jail officials to provide a climate conducive to the preservation of prisoners’ liberties, which was partially based on the conviction that detainees do not deserve all of the privileges and guarantees that the constitution grants to all residents. Aside from being ethically incorrect and legally illegal, this conviction fails to acknowledge several critical truths regarding the jail population.


The fundamental freedoms enshrined in Part III of the Indian Constitution are accessible to detainees, as affirmed by the Supreme Court of India. These include:

Article 141: Ensures equality before the law and equal protection of laws, allowing for reasonable classification of prisoners by authorities.

Article 19: Guarantees six freedoms, including freedom of speech and expression, assembly, association, movement, residence, and profession, which are applicable to prisoners as well.

Article 21: Protects the right to life and personal liberty, extending to prisoners and ensuring their basic human rights are respected.

Specific rights of prisoners include:

Right to privacy

Right against solitary confinement and restraints

Right to maintain human dignity

Right to legal aid

Right to speedy trial

Right to health and medical treatment

Right to reasonable wages

Right to meet friends and consult a lawyer

Right against inhuman treatment

Right to education

Right to receive books, magazines, and publications.

These rights ensure that prisoners are treated with dignity and are entitled to essential protections despite their incarceration.


1The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India, on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth


In Selvi Vs State of Karnataka, (2010)2 :-

The Supreme Court of India has declared Narco analysis, Polygraph tests, and Brain Mapping as illegal and violations of basic freedoms. While this decision may hinder investigation efforts and allow some criminals to escape conviction, the court ruled that individuals can only undergo such tests voluntarily. The results of these tests cannot be admissible as evidence in court but may be used to aid investigations.

Despite being favored tools for extracting truth from suspects, these tests have faced opposition from civil rights groups and individuals subjected to them. They are seen as intrusions into the human mind and breaches of the right to personal privacy. The Supreme Court recognized that these tests violate Article 20(3) of the Constitution, which protects individuals from being compelled to testify against themselves.

The court directed investigation agencies to strictly adhere to the mandates of the National Human Rights Commission when conducting such tests. Previously, these tests were used in high-profile cases such as the Arushi Talwar murder case, Nithari killings, Abdul Telagi case, Abu Salem case, and Pragya Thakur’s bomb blast case, generating significant public interest. However, they were deemed to be detrimental to the mental well-being of the accused and violated their right to privacy.


During the Covid-19 pandemic, prisons faced significant challenges. To address overcrowding and reduce the risk of infection, the Supreme Court allowed for emergency parole and interim bail for inmates. However, delays in processing court orders hindered the effectiveness of this measure.

New inmates were isolated upon entry to prevent transmission, but maintaining a healthy environment was difficult due to inadequate sanitation facilities. While positive prisoners were separated, mealtime separation was lacking for undertrial detainees.

Coronavirus centers were established within prisons, requiring medical professionals to manage patients. Daily screening and periodic health checks were recommended.

The Bombay High Court suggested constructing new prisons to increase capacity and alleviate overcrowding, considered a crucial step in managing the situation.


2 Protection of life and personal liberty No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law

3rights of the prisoners and duties of prison official” 

Another key responsibility was to maintain total cleanliness and neatness in the prisons. The inmates were provided separate cleansers, covers, and so on. They were regularly encouraged to clean up and were also advised not to sleep next to one another. 

However, the detainees are denied their fundamental right to freedom since, as detainees, they cannot be restricted from exercising their other common rights. According to Amnesty International reports, the efforts done by public authorities are insufficient to prevent the spread of the virus, which is an infringement on essential freedoms. 


Prison administration focuses on rehabilitation and welfare, with states and UTs implementing initiatives guided by the Central Government. The Ministry of Home Affairs oversees plans for infrastructure development, hygiene improvement, and staff training. State governments/UT administrations have direct control over prison management. Key initiatives include:

A. Restoration and Welfare:



Vocational Training

Prisoner’s Productivity


Food and Clothing

B. Complaint Mechanisms:

Grievances to NHRC

Complaints to SHRC


Technical arrangements.

 The government established many ways for the detainees to connect or interact with their family and attorneys. 


As there were restrictions on physical meetings, this was one of the easiest ways to communicate with family and friends throughout the epidemic. However, there were various restrictions imposed on the captives, such as time limits or the inability to communicate more than once every few days. These options were presented after a number of lengthy periods of lockdown, which increased inmate anxiety. 

Video conferencing 

Another option for the inmates’ meeting was video conferencing. Detainees were allowed to communicate with their family in person to learn about their well-being, and they were also used for contact between legal advisers and detainees to discuss the status of their case. However, there were extra complications in this alternative since it required access to the internet, and there were network troubles in the jail.

Extraordinary Treatment

 The legislation extends its protection to the most vulnerable members of the population, such as minors and female offenders who are in desperate need of safety and security.


  1. State of Andhra Pradesh v. Challa Ramkrishna Reddy5: 

             The court ruled that an unhappy person is entitled to all or any of the fundamental rights unless prohibited by the constitution.

  1. DBM Patnaik v. State of Andhra Pradesh6: 

It must be clearly stated that a prisoner can be both a creature and a natural or legal person. If someone is found guilty of breaking the law, this does not reduce him to the status of a non-person, whose rights may be revoked at the discretion of the jail administration. As a result, the absence of procedural protections precludes the imposition of any significant social control within the penitentiary system.

  1. Marie Andre’s v. The Superintendent, Tihar jail 7 : 

According to Supreme Court Justice Krishna Aiyer, “Imprisonment does not spell the end of basic rights; however, by a practical reappraisal, courts can refuse to recognise the total array of half III enjoyed by a free citizen.” He went on to say that jail is more than just retribution or deterrent; it is also a form of rehabilitation.

  1. Pt. Parmanand Katara v. Association of India and ors. (1989) 8

The Supreme Court has ruled that the concept of “life” under Article 21 of the Constitution extends beyond mere existence and includes dignity and humane treatment. In a case where a person was executed but their body was not taken down for over 30 minutes despite being declared dead by a doctor, the court held that this violated the right to life.


4 Model prison manual, 2016

5 State of AP v Challe Ramakrishna Reddy (2000) 5 SCC 712

6D.B.M.Patnaik vs. state of Andhra Pradesh 1974 AIR 2092

  1.  Rahmath Nisha v. Additional Director General of Prisoner and Others 9:

The Madras Court ruled that a prisoner, granted a 10-day pass to visit his wife, should be allowed to visit her in the hospital, even if she was in the ICU. The court emphasized that the meeting between the prisoner and his wife should not be monitored, as it is a private and sensitive matter. It upheld the right to privacy and dignity of the detainees, allowing them to have uninterrupted conversations with their partners.

                                    SUGGESTION AND RECOMMENDATION:

  1. There’s a gap between judicial laws and actual implementation in jails, leading to issues.
  2. Solitary confinement is a severe violation of human rights, as seen in cases like Sunil Batra vs. State of Delhi and Hussanara Khatoon.
  3. Legal aid provisions for the underprivileged are poorly implemented, with state-appointed lawyers often lacking commitment to their clients.
  4. Proper monitoring systems are needed to ensure compliance with rules and legal decisions concerning detainees.
  5. Detainees should have the right to choose their own lawyer, with meetings regulated but not monitored by prison authorities.
  6. Human rights education should be mandatory for police and law enforcement.
  7. A change in police culture and mindset is crucial.
  8. UN Minimum Standard Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners should be integrated into domestic law enforcement.
  9. State Boards of Visitors should be established to regularly inspect prisons and report conditions to the government.
  10. Installation of CCTV cameras in cells for enhanced oversight and security.


7Marie andre vs. the superintendent, tihar jail AIR 1975 SC 164

8Pt. Parmanand Katara v. Association of India and ors. 1989 AIR 2039, 1989 SCR (3) 997

9Rahmath nisha vs. additional direction general of prisoner & ors. WP (MD) no. 12695 of 2019


Jails are no longer solely punitive institutions but also places for rehabilitation, where detainees are seen as individuals in need of transformation. The judiciary has played a crucial role in safeguarding the rights of prisoners, ensuring their basic freedoms are upheld even in the face of errors by authorities.

The Covid-19 pandemic posed significant challenges for prisoners, with their lives also at risk. However, they were often overlooked during this crisis, highlighting the need for better healthcare facilities and overall conditions in prisons. The right to healthcare, although not explicitly stated in Article 21 of the Constitution, is essential and must be ensured for prisoners. Regular checks on prison procedures and conditions, as well as improvements in hygiene and food quality, are necessary to uphold the dignity and rights of detainees.

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