Panel to study plight of children growing inside prisons

The committee would also look into what reforms could be introduced within the prison walls.

A panel headed by a retired judge of the Supreme Court will be formed to tackle the issue of children living in prisons merely because their mothers are convicts.

A Bench of Justices Madan B. Lokur and Deepak Gupta has directed the government to form a panel headed by a former apex court judge, assisted by two or three Central government officers, to study the problems of mothers and children living inside prisons. Attorney-General K.K. Venugopal, for the Centre, agreed with the court’s view.

The order came after Supreme Court’s amicus curiae and advocate Gaurav Agarwal submitted a report showing that there were 18 jails exclusively for women. Also there are separate areas for women in other jails, but there is a huge lack of space for women inmates. He said these jails were not modelled to house women inmates, especially those with minor children staying with them.

The committee would also look into what reforms could be introduced within the prison walls.

The court said the Centre should issue a notification on the setting up of the committee, highlighting the importance of prison reforms and the fundamental right to life and dignity of the prisoners.

The court ordered training manuals to be circulated to the Director General of Prisons and Secretaries of Prison Department in each State Government/UT and also to three training institutes, that is, Institute of Corrections Administration, Chandigarh; Regional Institute of Correctional Administration, Kolkata; and Academy of Prison and Correctional Administration, Vellore.

The court advised the Centre that criminals sentenced to imprisonment for six months or a year should be allocated social service duties rather than be sent to further choke the already overflowing prisons.

The suggestion came from Justice Gupta after Mr. Agrawal submitted that 240 jails across the country were housing inmates 150% above their normal capacity.

Worse is the prison staff-prisoner ratio. Of about 77,000 sanctioned posts, 24500 lie vacant. Mr. Agarwal said Tamil Nadu and UP are some of worst cases in prison staff-inmate ratio. Only about 5000 prison staff monitor over 92,000 inmates in Uttar Pradesh. Tamil Nadu has about 4000 prison staffers to monitor 13,000 prisoners.

The court also observed that 60% of undertrial prisoners who languish behind bars need not actually be arrested. "The police say there is no need for arrest, but they still do. Again, half of those arrested, need not be remanded, but they are still remanded,” Justice Lokur pointed out.

The Bench is hearing a matter relating to inhuman conditions prevailing in 1,382 prisons across the country. The next date of hearing is August 17.

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