One takes it in very wrong way that prisoners don’t have any rights once they sent to jails or prisons. People mistakenly under the concept that prisoners are sent to jails for punishment and they cares all the rights of liberty along with them .Thus keeping the individual in the custody of state, should not, however, have a deleterious effect on him. Prisoners have unalienable rights conferred upon them by international treaties, and covenants. Prisoner’s rights are protected under prison jurisprudence such that they don’t exhaust their all rights due to imprisonment. In spite, of all such rights conferred to prisoners there is a loss of rights within custodial institutions, and continues to occurs frequently. They are taken as vulnerable and constant contact with all kinds of people who come in and out everyday which increases risk of contagious disease within prison and it should be controlled so that it doesn’t spread within the prison or outside the community in order, to take care of health conditions of all prisoners in jails or prisons.

With all such poor health conditions the other component of the problem is the food given to the prisoners. In many of cases we see issue related with the quality and quantity of food supplied to them. The present policy provided diet sufficient enough to preserve health and provide strength but after such policies they are served with poor quality and quantity of food within the premises of prison. Many of initiatives have been adopted by the government to protect their rights in the prisons and because of imprisonment they don’t exhaust their right of liberty which always conferred upon them even when they prisoners.

Historical Background of Prison and Prisoners in India-

In India, the early prisons were places of detention where an offender was detained until trial and judgment. The structure of the society in an ancient India was founded on the principles enunciated by Manu and explained by Yagnavalkya, Kautilya nad others. The main aim of imprisonment was to keep away the wrong doers, so that they might not defile the members of social orders. These prisons were totally dark dens, cool and damped, unlighted and unwarmed. There was no proper arrangement sanitation and no means of human dwelling.

Kautilya described the place of prison location as well as the occasions when the prisoners can be released. The officers of the jail at that time were Bhandanagaradhyaksa as superintendent and karka as assistant of superintendent. The jail department was under charge of Sannidhata. Kautilya also described the duties of jailor who always keeps eyes on the movements of prisoners and the proper functioning of the prison. According to Hiuen- Tsang prisoners generally received harsh treatment. At the time of Royal coronation prisoners were released.

During the Mughal period, the prisoners were kept under strict surveillance and under strict control of authorities and after the takeover of the country by the Britishers, the prisons in India were under terrible condition. Initiatioin of task for the shaping of the criminal laws by Lord Macaulay resulted into the formation of Indian Penal Code (IPC). From then onwards various recommendation through reports of various jail committees were submitted for the improvement of conditions of prisons and prisoners in the country.

After independence, the subjects of prisons, law and order, were placed under state list in the VII schedule of the Constitution of India. The government of India further adopted various measures to improve the terrible condition of prisons to provide basic standard of living and health care to the prisoners.

Current Situation of Indian Prisons

Overcrowding is among one of the major issue which has aggravated the problem of hygiene. Conditions of such jails are appalling. In many of small jails such as hajrats the conditions are worse as they put four to five prisons together in a small hajrat which produces risk of getting spread of many communicable diseases among them. Prisoners in India are not even tested specific infectious diseases, although all prisoners undergo a medical examination when they begin serving their sentence. Studies related to prevalence of viral infections still unexamined at national level. Few jails in India have involve informal contacts with medicals organization for counselling of prisoners to prevent spread of infections or any other contagious disease.

The supreme Court of India in its landmark judgment in Parmanand Katara v. Union of India (1989) ruled that the state has an obligation to observe life whether he is an innocent person or criminal liable to punishment under the law. With specific reference to health, the right to conditions, adequate for the health and well-being of all was ready recognised in Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights(ICESR) futhermore states that prisoners have a right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.

National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data on prisons in India –

  • The NCRB report said a total of 1,361 jails across the country had over 4.50 lakh prisoners- around 60,000 more than the total capacity of all prisons- at the end of the year 2017
  • Exceeding the growth rate of prison’s hosing capacity, the number of jail inmates, however, rose from 4.19 lakh in 2015 to 4.33 lakh in 2016 and to 4.50 lakh in 2017, registering a 7.4% rise over 2015-2017
  • Due to the number of jail inmates rising by a rate higher than the prison’s housing capacity, the occupancy rate in jails has increased from 114.4 % in 2015 to 115.1% in 2017

A prisoner also carries human rights which must be protected and keep secure for them. The above mentioned data shows that how prisoners taken as vulnerable among other members of society even though, they have rights which provides them to live in a protected and healthy environment.

Health Care and COVID-19

Todays world is suffering from cataclysmic situation of COVID-19 where it has severely hampered the all dimensions of our lives, causing tremendous human suffering and shaken the most basic foundations of societal well-being. It has caused immediate impact on health which prompted the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare the outbreak a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern”. The World has become area of concern where each and every people has affected by COVID-19 and on account of there being no vaccine available, the measures that have been adopted are of maintaining Social distance, use of masks, use of sanitizer, avoid visit of crowded places and many more preventive measures have been taken into considered by the government. It was in furtherance of this concept that the Indian Government announces lockdown in the States of highly contaminated areas to break the chain of spread of virus.

Indian prisons in the absence of continued lack of foresight, the slow mechanism of judiciary, and  many other such reasons remain not only potential hubs for the mass outbreak of COVID-19 but also of the complete mockery of idea of social distancing. The rights of prisoners for protection of health during epidemics under international law such as International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights clearly remarked the failure of a state in taking responsive steps towards the prevention of the spread of contagious diseases in prison would amount to violation of Art. 6 and Art. 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which provides ‘right to life’ and ‘right to liberty’ respectively. India is among those countries which have ratified the ICCPR. Thus, there are obligations on the Indian Government to take preventive steps towards spread of COVID-19 in prisons, and failure of taking preventive steps by the government lead to the violation of above mentioned articles under the ICCPR.

The several measures have been taken by the Indian Government to safeguard prisoner’s rights and interests. The Supreme Court of India has also played a vital role, many time it took suo motu cognizance of the over occupancy of  prisons during the  pandemic. It directed the State government and Union Territories to consider granting paroles of four to six weeks to prisoners booked under lesser offences to decongest prisoners.   The Indian Constitution itself provides provisions for the protection of health of prisoners during custody of officials under Article 21 (right to life) of the Constitution of India. The State government responded toward the outbreak of COVID-19 for the prevention or protection of health of prisoners by reducing the numbers of occupants in over occupied prisoners in the country. However, prisoners who are being released on bail or parole for a limited duration in different states, there is no uniform policy to regulate it and the same are being released without having their COVID- 19 tests, there is a risk of releasing new vectors of the disease all across India and it is also well known that the same often does not show early symptoms. This is because of poor health care facilities in prisons across India. Although the government is trying to reduce the risk of spreading of COVID-19 in prisons but on the other hand application of same policy is not up to the mark which in spite of reducing the risk somehow increases the risk at the same time.

We have witnessed to the outbreak of COVID-19 which is just one of the deadly pandemics , but there is all probability that it wouldn’t be  the last one. The prison system in the country needs a massive overhaul at its roots to protect its prison population from another crisis in the future.


On going across various surveys on health condition of prisoners throughout the world it cannot be said that there is proper functioning of laws related to this area. Numerous countries adopted improved policies to overcome the problem of deteriorating health conditions of prisoners as United Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) has itself and also through several conventions kept prisoners and freemen in balance, a prisoner carries same human rights as a freeman does and for this States have duty to protect their rights and on failure of the same would be violate fundamental rights of prisoners.

In India, the constitution itself provides rights to prisoner which is enshrined under Article 21 (right to life) of the Indian Constitution. This has been evolved through numerous cases and imposes duty on the State to ensure proper enjoyment of their fundamental rights. However, there are several provisions and laws for the protection of health care of prisoners but still there is improper implementation of these laws in the country.

Currently, the world is suffering from cataclysmic situation of COVID-19 where it has severely hampered the all dimensions of our lives; prisoner’s health care in such menace is of important concern, there are obligations on the Indian Government to take preventive steps towards spread of COVID-19 in prisons, and failure of taking preventive steps by the government lead to the violation of articles under the several International Conventions which India has rectified. Prisoners should not taken as vulnerable by prisons authorities as they also carries their fundamental human rights with them and it is the duty of prisons authorities to provide them proper and basic facilities in the prisons premises.




Author: Sapna Rajmani,

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