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Number of Inmates in Indian Prisons Jumped 13% in 2021 Despite Second Pandemic Wave

As many as 19 out of 36 states and UTs had overcrowding with undertrial prisoners comprising 77% of the prison population -– doubling since 2010, says IJR.

Representational use only.Image Courtesy: The Leaflet

New Delhi: As many as 19 out of 36 states and Union Territories had overcrowding ranging from 185 per cent to 100.2 per cent,and undertrial prisoners comprised 77 per cent of the prison population -– doubling since 2010.  

India Justice Report (IJR), which dissected the prison statistics published by the National Crime Records Bureau, in a press release shared the inmate population across all 1,319 prisons grew 13% from 4,88,511 in December 2020 to 5,54,034 in December 2021, which increased the overall occupancy from 118% to 130 % in spite of the deadly second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It said nearly 8 in 10 prisoners are awaiting trial.

“(Prisons Statistics India) PSI 2020 records 54,287 (14.6%) undertrials spent approximately 1-2 years' time in prison, while in 2021, 56,233 (13.16%) undertrials spent the same amount of time. In 2010, however, only 30,040 (12.5%) undertrials spent 1-2 years in jail,” the IJR said referring to the prison data released by the NCRB.

Published by Tata Trusts, the India Justice Report is an annual publication that is based on available government data to rank states on their justice-delivery capacity.

The analysis showed, as of December 2021, 19 out of 36 states and Union Territories had overcrowding ranging from 185 % to 100.2% , and undertrial prisoners comprised 77% of the prison population -– doubling since 2010.  

“Delhi's prisons house 91% undertrials, i.e., 9 out of 10 prisoners await completion of their trial. Nationally, 24,033 undertrials have been inside for 3 to 5 years while 11,490 have been confined for over 5 years.

"Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra account for the lion's share of undertrials confined for over 5 years. In keeping with all preceding years, most inmates come from among the poor and illiterate. 25.2% are illiterate and there is a disproportionate number of Muslims, Dalits and Adivasis among the inmates,” IJR found.

The report highlighted that 1.47 crore people were arrested in 2021, an increase of 7.7 lakh from 2020 and the same was “particularly worrying” as 2021 was the second year when a slew of decongestion efforts were being implemented across the nation.

“The shutting down of courts coupled with restrictions in moving inmates from prison to courts for physical appearances and the considerable loss of court time added to the lengthening of criminal trials, securing bail and accessing legal aid… “ it said.

It noted that while the number of prisons linked to courts by video conference facilities went up from 808 in 2019 to 1102 in 2021, a jump from 60 to 84%, the use of such technology has done little to reduce the number of undertrial prisoners or the average duration of their incarceration, a study has found.

The report found that 13 states/UTs recorded 100% coverage across their prisons, while four states/UTs had less than half of their jails equipped with the VC facility and Lakshadweep had none.

"Undoubtedly, video conferencing reduces the cost and manpower expended on escorting a prisoner back and forth from court but their use appears to have done little to reduce the numbers of undertrials. Nor is there evidence to show that the average time undertrial prisoners spend incarcerated has reduced,” the IJR release stated.

Between 2019 and 2021, video conference facilities between courts and prisons which are intended to bring prisoners face to face with the courts at minimum statutory intervals, increased from 60% (808 jails) to 84% (1,102 jails), it added.

The analysis also claimed that there was an overall decline in medical staff, which includes doctors, lab technicians, pharmacists and compounders, and vacancies increased from 32.7% in December 2020 to 40.5%in December 2021.

Nationally, average vacancy levels across all prison staff recorded a nominal decrease from 30.3% in December 2020 to 28% in December 2021 but yet, at the end 2021, half the states/UTs were functioning with 1/4th of their staff positions lying vacant, it said.

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