Home Ministry prepares Model Prisons Act 2023 to replace British-era law

There is no provision for reform and rehabilitation of prisoners in the existing Act, it says

May 12, 2023 10:23 pm | Updated May 13, 2023 09:14 am IST - New Delhi

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has prepared the ‘Model Prisons Act 2023’ that will replace a British-era law to overhaul the prison administration that will focus on the reformation and rehabilitation of inmates, it said on May 12.

Among the salient features of the model Act are provisions of punishment for prisoners and jail staff for use of prohibited items such as mobile phones in jails, establishment and management of high security jails, open jail (open and semi-open), and provisions for protecting the society from the criminal activities of hardened criminals and habitual offenders. It also contains provisions for providing legal aid to prisoners, parole, furlough and premature release to incentivise good conduct. .

Prisons in the country and ‘persons detained therein’ are a State subject and the existing law in this context, the Prisons Act of 1894 is a pre-independence era Act and is almost 130-years-old, it said.

Two other related laws — The Prisoners Act, 1900 and The Transfer of Prisoners Act, 1950 are also decades-old. The model Act, the Ministry said, might serve as a “guiding document” for the States, and for adoption in their jurisdiction.

‘Several lacunae’

The MHA said it found that there were “several lacunae” in the existing Prisons Act and there was “conspicuous omission” of the correctional focus in the existing Act. The Ministry, hence, directed the Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D), a Union government think tank on policing subjects, to review the laws and prepare a new draft. “The [existing] Act mainly focuses on keeping the criminals in custody and enforcement of discipline and order in prisons. There is no provision for reform and rehabilitation of prisoners in the existing Act,” it said.

The MHA said a comprehensive ‘Model Prisons Act, 2023’ was finalised with the objective of holistically providing guidance and addressing the gaps in the existing Prisons Act, including the use of technology in prison management, making provisions for grant of parole, furlough, remission to prisoners to encourage good conduct, special provision for women/transgender inmates, physical and mental well-being of prisoners and focus on the reformation and rehabilitation of inmates.

“The BPR&D after holding wide-ranging discussions with State prison authorities, correctional experts etc. prepared a draft,” the Ministry said in the statement.

Along with the Prisons Act, 1894, the Prisoners Act, 1900 and the Transfer of Prisoners Act, 1950 have also been reviewed by the MHA and relevant provisions of these Acts have been “assimilated” in the ‘Model Prisons Act, 2023’, it said. State governments and union territory administrations can benefit from the Model Prisons Act, 2023 by adopting it in their jurisdictions, with such modifications which they may consider necessary, and repeal the existing three Acts in their jurisdictions, the MHA said.

Focus areas

Some of the focus areas of the model Act provide for security assessment and segregation of prisoners, individual sentence planning; grievance redressal, prison development board, attitudinal change towards prisoners and provision of separate accommodation for women prisoners, transgender, etc.

The model Act also talks about provision for use of technology in prison administration with a view to bring transparency in prison administration, provision for video-conferencing with courts, scientific and technological interventions in prisons, etc.

It said that in the last few decades, an altogether “new perspective” has evolved about prisons and prison inmates, globally. “Prisons today are not looked as places of retributive deterrence but are considered as reformative and correctional institutions where the prisoners are transformed and rehabilitated back into society as law abiding citizens,” the statement said.

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