RIGHTS OF THE PRISONERS IN INDIA

  Author: Bhupesh Sharma, a student of Department of Law, Kurukshetra University, Kurukshetra.


Mahatma Gandhi said that “Crime is the result of a troubled mind and prisons should be provided with an environment for treatment and care”. The Indian Constitution ensures that every person of our country is treated equally under the law and also provided with equal legal protection while in India whether he is a freeman or a prisoner. The Hon’ble Supreme Court has put emphasis on the point that regardless of the circumstances that pushed a person to commit crime, prisoners shall be treated with due respect and provided with basic human rights. However there is no comprehensive legislation to deal with the rights of the prisoners and regulate their conduct while in the prison but the Indian judiciary has given due recognition to the convicts and their fundamental rights time and again by following the reformative approach. The rights of the prisoners have been evolved over the years. The main legislation that governs the prison that is Prison act 1894, although provide some rights to the prisoners however majority of the provisions are dealing with maintenance of the prison discipline. Various sates have also enacted their own legislation on the basis of the prisons act 1894.In this article we will discuss the various aspects related to the rights of the prisoners in India.

Who is Prisoner?

Before discussing about the rights of the prisoner let’s understand the term “Prisoner”, As per the Model Prison Manual 2016. A prisoner is person who is confined in a prison under the authority of an authorized body. In other words, a prisoner is a person held in jail or prison because he has committed an act prohibited by the law of the country.

In India, the term prison and jail are used as synonyms. Both the convicted and under-trials are referred to as prisoners.

Historical Background

As discussed above that the concept of the prisoner’s rights is an evolving one. Initially in the case of Platek vs. Aderhold {USA}, where the Court held that it has no power to interfere with the conduct of prison or its rules and regulations but later in the case of Johnson vs. Avery, court has recognized certain rights of the prisoners. After that Indian judiciary has also recognized the rights of the prisoners, In the famous case of Marie Andre vs. The Superintendent Tihar jail, the hon’ble justice Krishna Iyer held that “…imprisonment does not spell farewell to fundamental rights although, by a realistic re-appraisal, Courts will refuse to recognize the full array of Part III enjoyed by a free citizen”. He also said that the imprisonment of a prisoner is not merely retribution or deterrence but also rehabilitation

After the Independence several remarkable changes have been introduced in the Indian prison system. An ideal classification among them has been done to find out one who is suitable for the new treatment methods. Prisoners can avail various facilities such as furlough, ticket on leave, educational or occupational training, medical aid, etc. An important right of the prisoner to get established in the society after the sentence has been taken care of by the introduction of the concept of the Open air Prison. An another important development in this area is the introduction of the concept of  “Community Service” as a punishment. Nowadays prisoners enjoys considerable liberty and various rights and all credit of this goes to the judicial activism.

Rights of the Prisoners

Merely because a person is has been put in the prison it does not render him to non-human treatment. He is still a human who should be treated like one. He should be given the basic human rights available to every human being walking on the earth. But at the same time, he should not be treated as a free man with all absolute rights and freedom.

In the case of State of A.P. Vs. Challa Ramkrishna Reddy & Ors. (2000) 5 SCC 712, the Apex Court held that prisoners retain all their fundamental rights unless their liberty has been constitutionally restricted.

The rights of the prisoners are those rights which are provided to them by the statue and the same are necessary for their very existence as a human being. Although these rights are not provide by way of the statue in fact the have been conferred upon them by doing the liberal interpretation of statutory and constitutional provisions.

Broadly, the rights of the prisons are derived from-

1} The Constitution of India

2} The Prisoners act 1894

Rights of the Prisoners under Constitution

The constitution of India guarantees number of fundamental rights under part III to all the citizens whether he is a freeman or incarcerated except some which are taken away due to imprisonment by the law. Furthermore, the apex court in the case of State of A.P. Vs. Challa Ramkrishna Reddy & Ors. (2000) 5 SCC 712, ruled that a prisoner, whether he is a convict or an undertrial, does not lose his status as a human being and retains all the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution, including the right to life.

The Apex Court in the case of T.V. Vatheeswaran v. State of Tamil Nadu (1983) 2 SCC 68, emphasized that the fundamental rights given under Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution are available to both prisoners and those who are not incarcerated.

Article 14 of the Constitution of India

Article 14 ensures that every individual should be treated equally, it guarantees the equality before law and equal protection of law.  This article ensures that every prisoner is provided with the basic human rights, including access to nutritious food, just like any other citizen.

Article 19 of the constitution of India

Article 19{1} guarantees various freedom to the citizens such as:

  • Right to freedom of speech and expression.
  • Right to assemble peaceably & without arms.
  • Right to form associations or unions.
  • Right to move freely throughout the territory of India.
  • Right to reside & settle in any part of the territory of India.
  • Right to practice any profession or can carry on any occupation, trade or business.

However, only two of them are available to the prisoners and these arer:

  • The right to freedom of speech and expression.
  • The right to become a member of an association.

But these rights are not absolute, reasonable restrictions can be imposed in the interest of justice.

Article 21 of the Constitution of India

Article 21 guarantees that no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established by the law. It has two aspects “Right to life” and ‘Right to personal liberty”. This article serves as a key provision that serves as a crucial protection against arbitrary actions by the state or other entities

This article provides various rights to the Prisoners such as:

  • Right to free legal aid
  • Right to live with human dignity
  • Right to fair and speedy trial
  • Right against the cruel and inhuman treatment
  • Right to consult a legal Practitioner
  • Right to reasonable wages in the Prison

Rights of the Prisoners in the Prisoners act 1894

This is the only legislation at national level that deals with the prison and prisoners. Although the prison manual of 1970 also contains provisions related to the rights of the prisoners but it has not been implemented so far so, the current position is that Prisons act 1894 is the only national level document that deals with the prisons and prisoners. Some states have also passed their own legislations that deal with the prisons and prisoners. Some of the key provisions in this act that deal with the rights of the prisoners are illustrated below:

  • The right to adequate accommodation and sanitary conditions for prisoners{section-4}
  • The right to shelter and safe custody for the excess prisoners{section-7}
  • Provision for the separation of the prisoners {section-27} such as-
  1. Male and female prisoners
  2. Under trial and convicted
  3. Civil and criminal prisoners
  4. Habitual and young prisoners
  • The right to get medically examined by the certified medical practitioner{section-24 and 26}
  • The right against the solitary confinement{section-29}
  • Provision for the care of ill prisoners{section-37}
  • Provision related to visits for the civil and undertrials{section-40}
  • Provision related to the establishment of Hospital for the prisoners{section-39}

In addition to the above mentioned provisions there are many other provisions in the Prisons act 1894 related to the rights of the prisoners.

In 2016, Parliament has also passed Prisons {Amendment} Bill 2016 in the Prisons act 1894 in order to introduce the changes in the act for the protection and welfare the prisoners.

Landmark case laws

  • State of Andhra Pradesh vs. Challa Ramkrihna & ors. {AIR 2000 SC 741} – In this case the apex court held that a prisoner is entitled to all fundamental rights unless curtailed by the constitution
  • State of Maharashtra vs. Prabhakar Pandurang Sanzgir {1986(1)BOMCR272} – In this case the hon’ble supreme court held that every prisoner must retains all the rights which he enjoyed as a freeman except those which are necessarily lost as a consequence if confinement.
  • Sunil Batra vs Delhi Administration {AIR 1982 SC 1579} – The Apex Court ruled that there is a need to understand that a prisoner is also a human being as well as a natural person or a legal person. If a person gets convicted for the commission of a crime, it does not mean that his status should be reduced to the status of a non-person whose rights could be snatched away at the whims and fences of the prison authorities. Therefore, imposing any major punishment within the system of prison is conditional upon the absence of any procedural safeguards.
  • Mohammad Giassuddin vs. State of Andhra Pradesh {AIR 1977 SC 1926} The Hon’ble Supreme Court observed in this case that whenever the prisoners are made to work inside the prison, wages shall be paid to them at reasonable rate and in no case less than the minimum wages. The state governments are also directed to keep this in mind while preparing the manuals for the payment of the wages to the prisoners.


Prisoners are also the human beings, merely they are imprisoned do no take away their fundamental rights which they have due to their existence except those which are curtailed by the process of law as result the fact that they are imprisoned. In addition to the constitution and the legislations which provide various rights to the prisoners, Judiciary also plays an important role in the protection of the prisoners and safeguarding their rights by doing the harmonious interpretation of statues and by adopting the reformative approach.

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