India's prisons are understaffed by at least 33 per cent with the highest vacancies found at the officer and correctional staff levels. This has increased the workload of the staff and is having an impact on the 'correctional' aspect of imprisonment. The findings are part of the India Justice Report 2019, an initiative of Tata Trusts.
According to the report, the nationwide prison occupancy rate stood at 114 per cent as of 2016. On any given day, there are over 400,000 prisoners in India. Much of this overcrowding is due to the presence of 'undertrials' - people in custody awaiting investigation, inquiry or trial - who constitute nearly 68 per cent of all prison inmates. For every convict, India has two undertrials in its jails.
The report says that overcrowding of prisons, staff shortages at all levels - officers, cadre staff, correctional staff, medical staff and medical officers - low salaries, poor training and long hours characterise prison administrations across states.
Nationally, on average, vacancies ranged from 33 per cent to 38.5 per cent. These vacancies rose by 10 per cent between December 2012 and December 2016. With the exception of three states and Union Territories, all others registered high levels of vacancies in 2016.
At the level of cadre staff, 17 states and UTs had a vacancy of above 25 per cent, while at the officer level, as many as 22 states and UTs had vacancy levels of over 25 per cent.
The report states that the intention of transforming prisons from places of detention into places that maximise the chance of returning a reformed person into society can be achieved through services offered by the correctional staff, comprising welfare officers, psychologists, lawyers, counsellors and social workers, among others.
The Model Prison Manual, 2016, has suggested one correctional officer for every 200 prisoners and one psychologist for every 500. Nationally, as of 2016, this ratio stands at one welfare officer per 2,033 prisoners and 21,650 prisoners for one psychologist.
At the cadre level, as of 2016, only 15 states met the benchmark of six inmates per cadre set by the manual.
The India Justice Report is a quantitative analysis of the capacity of the four pillars of justice - judiciary, police, prisons, and legal aid. These four pillars were quantitatively studied using six filters - budgets, human resources, workload, diversity, infrastructure and trends (change of the last five years). The report presents a state-wise picture of each pillar in separate clusters of 18 large and mid-sized states and seven small states basis population, seven UTs and four other 'unranked' states.
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