Prison administration needs to be reformed: Madras High Court

Updated - January 04, 2023 02:21 pm IST

Published - January 03, 2023 08:39 pm IST - MADURAI

A view of Coimbatore Central Prison. Representational  image. File

A view of Coimbatore Central Prison. Representational image. File | Photo Credit: Siva Saravanan S

Prison administration needs to be reformed for creating a better environment and prison culture to ensure prisoners enjoy their right to dignified life under Article 21 of the Constitution, observed the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court while passing a series of directions in this regard.

A Division Bench of Justices R. Mahadevan and J. Sathya Narayana Prasad passed a series of directions on a petition filed in 2017 by Madurai-based Human Rights Organisation People’s Watch represented by its Executive Director Henri Tiphagne.

The petitioner’s plea was that the appointment of non-official visitors to the Board of Visitors to Prisons, in accordance with Rule 507 of the Tamil Nadu Prison Rules, 1983 was essential for addressing the grievances of prisoners and helping the prison administration. However, the same had not been done by the State promptly and the posts of non-official visitors were kept vacant in many prisons.

The court quoted former South African President and anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela who said, “No one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.”

The judges directed the authorities to constitute a committee to ensure periodic appointment of the non-official visitors to all the prisons/jails within the State promptly upon expiry of the tenure of such non-official visitor and to constitute board of visitors in all prisons who could periodically review and advise prison authorities on various aspects of facilities training, correctional work etc. The minutes of the meeting of the board of visitors along with suggestions to the government should be uploaded on the website, district/prison wise.

The judges directed the authorities to amend the Prison Act, 1894 and the Tamil Nadu Prison Rules, 1983 in accordance with the Model Prison Manual, 2016 and the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules).

The court directed the authorities to take appropriate measures to reduce overcrowding of prisoners in the prisons, if not taken earlier, to prepare a ‘Prisoners’ Rights Handbook’ with information on their rights, applicable laws and regulations, mechanism for raising grievances/complaints with the board of visitors and other authorities concerned, expected behaviour from prisoners and disciplinary action for violations and to provide each prisoner with a copy of the same upon admission to the prisons. The same should also be made available online on the website of the prison department.

The Office of the Inspector General of Prisons should prepare the annual report with the remarks and suggestions of the visitors and board across the State, and the corresponding action taken by the prison department.

The annual report prepared by the Inspector General containing the remarks and action taken must be published on the website, the court directed.

Further, the court directed the authorities to make all the facilities viz., medical equipment, drinking water, hygienic food available to the prisoners, at all times. Regular training and refresher courses should be conducted in collaboration with the Academy of Prisons and Correctional Administration for officials and prison staff, who directly interact with the inmates in order to create a sensitive and dignified prison environment, to provide an effective grievance redressal system with the provisions of complaint box and CCTV cameras and alert system in the barracks of jails.

To ensure the effective functioning of visitorial system in reforming the prisons, the State government should organise a yearly conference under the aegis of the State Human Rights Commission with the official and non-official visitors of the Board of Visitors across the State, officials concerned with prison administration and correctional services to consider the status of prison administration, deliberate on the report of the board of visitors and recommend changes in the prison administration, the judges directed.

The overall appreciation of the legal framework prevailing in the State, Central and International levels would necessitate us to observe that prison administration and its reforms must be carried out by keeping the objective of the prison system in the first place i.e., reformation of inmates, their rehabilitation and successful reintegration into the society at the end of their incarceration. The prison environment and culture among the inmates instilled by such an environment are significant factors in determining the success of incarceration. Any reform in prison management in order to achieve the said purpose must start with the department of prisons and correctional services.

Improving the culture among inmates and the environment by certain administrative reforms will bring about a change in the behaviour of the inmates ultimately leading to an effective incarceration system with due regard for prisoner’s rights, the judges observed. With the set of directions, the court disposed of the petition.

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