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  • Paras Sharma

Human Rights Protection for Prisoners

Written by: Ms. Shubhi Mathur, Student, Babu Banarasi Das University


Prisoner is a person who infringed the law of a particular country or who did not follow the rules of that country. Prisoner is a human who is kept in a jail or custody for breaking a law or done a criminal offense. Prisoners have done criminal offense but they have some basic rights that are strictly followed and no one can take that from them. Legislative keep an keen eyes on the laws over criminals. Judiciary plays a vital role in protecting such rights of the prisoners. It is the obvious duty of the judiciary to protect the rights of prisoners. Plethora of the rights are ensure to the Prisoners.

According to Article 14 of the constitution, it enshrines right to equality and equal protection of law. As being the part of India the prisoners enjoy the right of Article 14. In addition to this, the question of cruelty to prisoners is also dealt with, specifically by the Prison Act, 1894 and the Criminal Procedure Code (CRPC). Prison Act, 1894 defines the term prison inclusively as buildings maintained by state governments with the purpose to detain prisoners. The act also categorizes prisoners as “criminal “, “civil” and “ convicted” prisoners. The Chapter II of the Act deals with maintenance and officers of prison.

Also Article 21 also protect some of the right of prisoners. Article 21 of the Constitution of India provides that “No person shall be deprived of his life and Personal Liberty except according to procedure established by law”.[i]Article 21 guarantees the liberty and no person will be treated as inhuman or with cruelty or degrading treatment to any person no matter whether Indian or foreigner.

The Prisoners have plenty of rights which cannot be taken from them. Some of the basic rights are right of food and water, right to defend himself, protection from torture, racial discrimination etc.

We will study in detail those Bundle of Rights that are given to prisoners the Prisoners. They are :-

1. Rights against Solitary Confinement, Bar Fetters and Handcuffing :-

The term Solitary Confinement means to isolate the criminal separately in a separate cell. This type of confinement is rare and is applicable to some criminals only as its highly dehumanizing and degrading. The need of solitary confinement was first observe in Sunil Batra case in Supreme Court.

Bar fetters was the punishment which involved tying the criminal's hand and legs with metallic chains and restraint them to do the work. Bar fetters got restraint by the Supreme Court because they believe that it will treat the human as animals and it is very cruel. It is against the spirit of Constitution.

The term Handcuffing means to tie handcuffs in the hand of the suspects while taking them to the court. Supreme court restraint the use of handcuffs because it is inhuman and infringe the dignity of the individual. It is also against the Article 21 of the constitution.

2. Rights against Inhuman Treatment of Prisoners :-

Human Rights deals and passes through the Human Dignity. It is very important to deal the prisoners with humanity. The basic aim of the punishment is to change the behavior of the guilty and make them realize what wrong they had done. Treating them with inhumanity and cruelty will lead them to turn into animals which is not good for the society. Supreme Court pays a lot of attention in safeguarding prisoners rights and protect them from inhuman behavior of the man in power. Using of third degree is the violation of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.

The Supreme Court read the right against torture into Articles 14 and 19 of the Constitution. The court observed that “the treatment of a human being which offends human dignity, imposes avoidable torture and reduces the man to the level of a beast would certainly be arbitrary and can be questioned under Article 14”.

In the Raghubir Singh v. State of Bihar, the Supreme Court expressed its anguish over police torture by upholding the life sentence awarded to a police officer responsible for the death of a suspect due to torture in a police lock-up.

3. Right to Meet Friends, Relatives and Lawyers :-

Not only physical but mental support are also provided by the judiciary. It is important for the guilty to meet their loved ones and no one can take this right from them. It means something much more than just physical survival.

In Dharmbir vs. State of U.P the court directed the state Government to allow family members to visit the prisoners and for the prisoners, at least once a year, to visit their families, under guarded conditions.

It is the duty of the judiciary to provide legal support to the criminals who himself cannot afford it. It is necessary need of the person to get the justice and he should be provided with a lawyer.

Article 22 (I) of the Constitution directs that no person who is arrested shall be denied the right to consult and to be defended by a legal practitioner of his choice. [ii]This legal right is also available in the code of criminal procedure under section 301. The court has held that from the time of arrest, this right accrues to the arrested person and he has the right of choice of a lawyer.

In Hussainara Khatoon vs. Home Secretary, Bihar, the Supreme Court has held that it is the Constitutional right of every accused person who is unable to engage a lawyer and secure legal services on account of reasons such as poverty, indigence or incommunicado situation, to have free legal services provided to him by the state and the state is under Constitutional duty to provide a lawyer to such person if the needs of justice so require. If free legal services are not provided the trial itself may be vitiated as contravening the Article 21.

Along with the Constitution in India, many other Acts are providing rights to the prisoners. These are :-

1. The Prison Act, 1894[iii] :-

This act came into force on 1st July 1894. This Act is the first legislation in providing establishment to the prisoners reform. It includes Accommodation and Sanitary to the prisoners, Separate Prison for male, female, civil, criminal, convicted and under trial prisoner, Looking after physical and mental status of the prisoners etc.

2. The Prisoners Act, 1990[iv] :-

Following are the rights that are provided to the Prisoners :-

It is the duty of the government for the removal of any prisoner detained under any order or sentence of any court, which is of unsound mind to a lunatic asylum and other place where he will be given proper treatment.

Any court which is a high court may in case in which it has recommended to government the granting of a free pardon to any prisoner, permit him to be at liberty on his own cognizance.

3. The Transfer of Prisoners Act, 1950 [v]:-

This act was enacted for the transfer of prisoners from one state to another for rehabilitation or vocational training and from over-populated jails to less congested jails within the state.

4. The Prisoners (Attendance in Courts) ACT, 1955[vi]:

This Act contains provisions authorizing the removal of prisoners to a civil or criminal court for giving evidence or for answering to the charge of an offence.

Our Judiciary is playing a important role in securing the rights of the Prisoners and help them in protecting from all the cruelty. It shows that judiciary is an important part of our country in providing justice to every individual and working within the limits of the constitution. The Supreme Court has taken correct measures and directing legislative and executive in a correct way. Supreme Court protects the Human Rights of the Prison and keep a keen eyes on all the lawbreakers.


[i] Article 21 of the Indian Constitution [ii] Article 22[1] od the Indian Constitution [iii] The Prison Act, 1894 [iv] The Prisoners Act, 1990 [v] The Transfer of Prisoners Act, 1950 [vi] The Prisoners (Attendance in Prison) Act, 1955

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