Data | Indian jails are overflowing, in 26 States prisoner count exceeds capacity

In 2021, the crisis was most acute in Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi where the occupancy rate crossed 180%

Updated - October 15, 2022 10:41 am IST

Published - October 12, 2022 01:07 pm IST

Overcrowded prisons: Prisons in India are overcrowded and understaffed

Overcrowded prisons: Prisons in India are overcrowded and understaffed

A news report published in The Hindu on Sunday described how the Border Security Force (BSF) in the North 24 Parganas district of West Bengal is handing over illegal migrants with a clean record to Bangladeshi officials as prisons are overflowing in the State. If normal procedure were to be followed, these illegal migrants would have been lodged in correctional homes, the report added.

The story has put the spotlight back on the age-old problem of overcrowded prisons in India. Data show that in 2021, the latest year for which numbers are available, over 5.54 lakh people were lodged in prison, while the total capacity of Indian jails was about 4.25 lakh. This means that the occupancy rate of Indian prisons was 130%, a peak at least in the last decade.

Breaking point

Chart 1 shows the capacity of Indian prisons, the number of actual prisoners and the occupancy rate in the last decade. While the capacity has increased from some 3.32 lakh to 4.25 lakh in the last decade — a 27% increase — the number of prisoners has shot up from 3.7 lakh to 5.54 lakh in the same period — a 48% increase. This imbalance has caused the occupancy rate to surge from 112% to 130% in the last decade.

Hover over the charts to find the exact figures

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The pan-India problem of overflowing jails has worsened in the last decade. However, it was most acute in three northern States/Union Territories — Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, and Delhi. In these three regions, the occupancy rate crossed 180% in 2021 (180 prisoners for every 100 vacancies). Notably, in these three regions, the occupancy rate ranged between 60% and 75% in 2011. In fact, of the 36 States and UTs analysed, the occupancy rate increased in 26 of them in the past decade. And in 18 of them, the occupancy rate in 2021 was more than 100%.

Chart 2 shows the occupancy rates of select States/UTs in 2011 and 2021. The highest increase was observed in Delhi, where the occupancy rate increased from 60% to 183% — a 122% point increase. Among the major States, significant decreases were observed in Chhattisgarh and Punjab where the occupancy rate decreased by 108% points and 51% points, respectively.

Bangladeshi nationals dominate the foreign inmate population in India. Most foreign inmates are lodged in West Bengal prisons as the State shares a long border with the neighbouring country.

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Chart 3 shows the foreign inmates lodged in West Bengal jails as a share of total foreign prisoners. While there is a slight dip in recent years, the share has consistently remained above 30%. The chart also shows the share of Bangladeshi undertrials among the total number of foreign undertrials lodged in Indian jails. The share has remained above the 35% mark in recent years.

When read along with the fact that the occupancy rates in West Bengal prisons have increased from 70% to 120% in the past decade, the BSF’s recent decision to hand over illegal migrants to Bangladesh appears justified.


While on the one hand, jails are overflowing, on the other, the vacancies for prison officers are alarmingly high in some States. Also, the money spent on each prison inmate varies widely across States. Chart 4 plots prison officer vacancy in 2019 against the amount spent per inmate in Rs. in 2019-20. In Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh, Bihar and Jharkhand over 60% of officer positions were vacant. And in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab and Maharashtra, less than Rs. 20,000 was spent on each prison inmate in 2019-20. and

Source: National Crime Record Bureau’s “Prison Statistics India” reports

Also read: Data | Justice delayed: 1 crore cases pending for over 5 years, 76% prisoners are undertrials

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