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Rights of Prisoners

This post has been written by Kabeer Kalwani, a first year law student from Hidayatullah National law University, Raipur.

A prison is considered as a place in which individuals are physically confined and are deprived of personal freedom to a certain extent. Prison is an integral part of the criminal justice system of any country. Prisons may be meant exclusively for adults, children, females, convicted prisoners, under-trials etc. The objective of imprisonment may vary from country to country. It may be: a) punitive b) deterrence c) reformative or d) rehabilitative etc.

Americans live in a time of the greatest prison expansion in the modern history. By the close of 2000, almost two million adults were imprisoned at an operational cost that exceeds over $38 billion dollars a year. Minorities are represented in the prison population in percentages that far exceed their representation in the general population. African Americans comprise less than 13 percent of the U.S. population, yet 48 percent of the prison population is African American. With so many people in prison and with so much spent to keep them there, the rights of prisoners takes added significance. An additional factor is that every year more than a half million men and women prisoners are released. The treatment these people received in prison—whether it conforms to constitutional norms or not—will have consequences. It could very well mean the difference between having prisoners return to their communities embittered or having them return ready to begin law-abiding lives.

The word “prisoner” means any person for the time being in a prison as a result of any requirement imposed by a court or otherwise that he be detained in legal custody. A prisoner also known as an inmate is anyone who is deprived of liberty against their will. This can be by confinement, captivity, or by forcible restraint.

Article 21 of the Constitution guarantees the right of personal liberty and thereby prohibits any inhuman, cruel or degrading treatment to any person whether he is a national or foreigner.

The Article 20(1) ,protect the person from ex post facto laws or retroactive criminal legislation; i.e. when at the time, he committed the crime, if no conditions of harsh labour was prescribed by the court, then, it cannot be enacted or inflicted upon him, for which the imprisonment is prescribed.

The Article 20(2), it has been provided that no person shall be put into trouble twice, for the same offence, (rights against double jeopardy) .

Article 20(3), provides for the protection against ‘testimonial compulsion’, i.e. the protection against compulsion to be a witness is only confined to persons accused of an offence. A right against self- incrimination is given under this.

Article 19; “freedom of speech and expression”, “freedom to become member of an association” and also the rights to acquire, hold and dispose property are enjoyed by the prisoners even they are behind bars, within the limitations of the prison.

Article 14; gives the right to equality and equal protection before laws. So, prisoners too havetheir own rights.

Article 22(1), The prisoner also has the right to consult and to be defendant by a lawyer under this article.

Article 22(4) to (7) provides special safeguards for the protection of prisoner’s rights. A prisoner has the right to be informed about the grounds on which he was arrested, under this article.

If a prisoner sentenced to imprisonment, is virtually unable to exercise his constitutional and statutory right of appeal, for want of legal assistance, there is implicit in the court under article 142 read with article 21 and 39 A of the Constitution, power to assign council for such imprisoned individual for doing complete justice. Where the prisoner is disabled from engaging a lawyer, on reasonable grounds such as indigence or incommunicado situation, the court shall, if the circumstances of the case, the gravity of the sentence, and the ends of justice so required, assign competent counsel for the prisoners defense, provided the party doesn’t object to that lawyer.

Basic principles for the treatment of prisoners 1990, Body of principles for the protection of all persons under any form of detention or imprisonment 1988, Code of conduct for law enforcement officials 1979, Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment 1984, Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment 1984, European Prison Rules 1987, International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights 1966, Principles of medical ethics relevant to the role of health personnel, particularly physicians, in the protection of prisoners and detainees against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, 1982, Standard minimum rules for the treatment of prisoners1957 and 1977, United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crimeand Treatment of Offenders, United Nations Rules for the Protection of Juveniles deprived of their Liberty, United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice (The Beijing Rules) 1985, Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948.

Code of Criminal Procedure 1973, Exchange of Prisoners Act 1948, Identification of Prisoners Act 1920, Indian Penal Code Act 1860, Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act 2000, Mental Health Act 1987, Model Prison Manual 2003, Prison Act 1894, Prisoners (Attendance In Courts) Act 1955, Prisoners Act 1900, Probation of Offenders Act 1958, Protection of Human Rights.

In another recent landmark judgement in the case of “FranciesCorale Mullin vs. the Administrator, Union Territory of Delhi & others”, the Supreme Court explained the ingredients of personal liberty under Article 21. The case arose out of the rights of a detainee under COFEPOSA to have an interview with his family members and lawyers. The meeting with family members was restricted to one a month and the lawyer could be met only in the presence of an officer of the customs department. The Supreme Court ruled that the right to life and liberty included his right to live with human dignity and therefore a detainee would be entitled to have interviews with family members, friends and lawyers without these severe restrictions.

A person does not lose his human rights merely because he has committed some offence as he also has some dignity which must be protected. However, at the same time conferring conjugal rights to the prisoners within the jail premises requires re-consideration of a larger bench of the High Court or the Supreme Court as far as the concept of human rights is involved. By giving more weightage to the prisoners, the balance of criminal justice system may get disturbed and a situation may arise when one day jails would become resting centers or the victims may stop reporting the matter to the police and start taking law in their own hands to punish the guilty.

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