PIL in HC stokes a debate on prison inmates’ right to conjugal visits

Over the past few years, courts have been in favour of arrangements for inmates to meet their partners

August 28, 2023 01:34 am | Updated 01:35 am IST - New Delhi

Delhi prison authorities have opposed the demand raised by an advocate in a PIL to allow conjugal visits for inmates.

Delhi prison authorities have opposed the demand raised by an advocate in a PIL to allow conjugal visits for inmates. | Photo Credit: FILE PHOTO

Do prison inmates in the national capital have a fundamental right to conjugal visits by spouses? A plea in the High Court, which has given the Delhi government six weeks to share its views, certainly thinks so. As does a former prisoner and an expert on prison reforms.

Several courts across the country also seem to be in favour of allowing inmates a private moment with their legal partners. However, the prison administration in the city believes that “the right to procreation is desirable, however, not practicable”.

Advocate and social activist Amit Sahni, who moved the public interest litigation in the High Court earlier this month, said various researches have shown that conjugal visits generate positivity among prisoners and help them on their journey towards reformation.

A former businessman, recently released from Tihar jail after serving 19 years behind bars in a murder case, backed Mr. Sahni’s effort. The former convict, who requested to remain anonymous, said conjugal facilities must be available to inmates who are incarcerated for long durations.

“A man commits a crime. Say he gets 5, 10, 15 years in jail. Now, why should his family also be subjected to the same punishment?” the former convict said. He added that although options such as parole and furlough are available to inmates, they are not always easy to get.

Advocate Ajay Verma, who has worked extensively on the issues of human rights, crime, and prison reforms, wholeheartedly supports the initiative.

“Many activities are undertaken in prisons, such as meditation and music, but at the end of the day, nothing can replace the pleasure of seeing one’s family. If conjugal visits are allowed, the inmates will be able to continue their family ties,” Mr. Verma said.

“This will also de-stress the inmates. There will be fewer fights in the prison. So, according to me, this will be a very positive development,” he added.

Legal precedents

On September 15 last year, the Ludhiana Central Jail introduced the ‘Parivar Mulakat [Family Visit]’ programme. The initiative allows inmates to have face-to-face meetings with their loved ones in specially designated rooms within the prison premises. Such facilities have since been introduced in other jails of the State.

In July this year, Justice S.M. Subramaniam of the Madras High Court requested the State government to consider allowing prisoners to have conjugal relationships with their spouses within the prison precincts.

Five years earlier, on November 1, 2018, the Madras High Court, in a landmark judgment, permitted a life convict to go on two weeks’ parole on a plea by his wife, saying it was her right to have conjugal relations.

“Conjugal visits of the spouse of the prisoners is also the right of the prisoner… When the prisons are overcrowded, providing a place for conjugal visits may be a problem, but the government has to find a solution,” the Madras High Court had remarked.

In 2014, the Punjab and Haryana High Court allowed a couple lodged in jail to engage sexually within the prison premises to have a child. The court held that “the right to procreation survives incarceration”.

‘Not practicable’

In July 2019, the then Director-General (Prisons) of Delhi filed an affidavit before the High Court saying, “In accordance with established policy, the right to procreation is desirable, however, not practicable in the present prison scenario.”

Official data showed that the three prison complexes in Delhi — Tihar, Mandoli, and Rohini — currently hold nearly 20,500 inmates, more than twice their total sanctioned strength. The then D-G had said that the “opportunity to preserve family ties and marital stability is ensured through regular releases on parole/ furlough/ interim bails, etc.”

The official had also pointed out that 1,200 visitations are allowed daily in Tihar jail alone. “Allowing conjugal visits in prisons at this time may not be feasible in light of the limited infrastructure available...” the D-G had said.

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