Research ArticleConstitutional Law

Evolution of Prison Reform in India: International Guidelines and Judicial Trends

Evolution of Prison Reform in India: International Guidelines and Judicial Trends

Author(s): Pratistha Dahiya, 3rd year student at Symbiosis Law School & Ankita Kar, 4th year student at SOA National Institute of Law, Bhubaneswar.


This research project aims to investigate a thorough Evaluation of Prison Reforms in India as part of the rising demand for an integrative criminal justice system in the country, and it has given fire to the already smouldering problem of prison reforms. This research paper begins with a brief overview of India’s penitentiary history and the integrated theory of criminology.

The cornerstone for Prison Reform is believed to be the notion of the prison as a place where therapy takes precedence over detention. The research examines prison reforms in India before and after independence, as well as the current state of prisons, recent developments in prison reforms, and judicial trends linked to prison reforms in India in the sphere of emerging guidelines. The main objective of this research article is to understand and study the everchanging system of Indian prisons and how they have evolved around the foreign guidelines and treaties.

Even after so many changes in the judiciary, ruling parties, not just in our country but also the rest of the world, everyone is trying to catch up with each other trying to remain in the same page but there still has been instances where even in modern time India where the judiciary has struggled with the rehabilitation of the inmates of their prisons, this is where the question comes is the Indian prison system at par with the international guidelines and treaties because one successful institution which is thriving cannot be the face of the rest of the system which barely keeping its neck above the water.


The word jail comes from a Latin word that means “to seize.” As per the Oxford English Dictionary, a jail is “a properly functional and prepared facility for the admission of individuals who are committed to it by legal procedure for custody while awaiting trial and sentence.”

A crime is committed when someone does something that they are not allowed to do by law or refuses to do something that they are required to do by law. The majority of offences are punishable by jail. The Prison is the location where the convicted are housed. A suitable definition of jail may be found in Section 3 of the Prisons Act of 1894.[1]

In India, prisons are divided into three categories: talukas, districts, and central, also known as zonal/range prisons. Sub Jails, District Jails, and Central Jails are the names of the jails at these three levels. From Sub Jail to Central Jail, the infrastructure, security, and prisoner amenities such as healthcare, academic, and rehabilitative improve gradually.[2]

Prisons have been in our society since Ancient India, when the mitigating elements were housed at a location designated by the monarchs to protect the general people from crime. Prisons were regarded as a place of Captives, where inmates were held for vengeance and discipline.Initially, it was believed that separation and prison measures would alter the guilty persons, but this belief is progressively being replaced by the sophisticated concept of social defence. From moment to time, the administration and experts identify certain concerns facing prisons. Presently, prisons are primarily used for three purposes: custodial, coercive, and correctional. The notion of imprisonment as just a place of rehabilitation has evolved over time. Previously, jails simply performed a custodial role, allowing a suspected criminal to be held in lawful custody until he could be prosecuted and punished if proven guilty.

History of Indian Prisons

The development of India’s jail system is one of the most difficult systems around the world to comprehend. The judicial process was not a component of the state’s responsibilities throughout the Vedic period. Robbery, homicide, and infidelity are mentioned throughout this time period, but nothing that indicates that the monarch or an approved individual as a jurist has the authority to make any judiciary judgement, whether criminal or civil.[3]

The evolution of the correctional system may be split into three eras. During the initial phase, which spanned until the early 16th century, a penal facility was primarily a cell of confinement chamber in a secure and safe area of a city or hamlet where prisoners awaiting trial or awaiting execution were housed.

During the Vedic and Imperial periods in India, the goal of discipline was to keep criminals from continuing their crimes. The death penalty, trying to hang, lashing, and flogging were all accepted means of punishment. The detainees were mistreated, tormented, and exposed to the most systematic abuse possible. They were supervised and kept under rigorous control.

The state of the jail system in mediaeval India was comparable to that of medieval Civilizations. The Quran was regarded as jurisprudence at the period. Distinguishing criminality was a common practise. Crimes were classified into three categories: sins against God, offenses against the State, and offenses against private individuals. Prisoners were exclusively utilised for imprisonment in this case as well.[4] The jail system was employed as a punitive measure for criminals in India during the British administration. The previous harsh ways of punishment were replaced by this kind of discipline. Furthermore, the prisons were in the same state as they were during the Mughal period. The British government intended to enhance the conditions of the jails and overhaul the prison system’s operation.[5]

Lord Macaulay proposed that the Legislature Board of India create a commission to oversee the jail’s circumstances in 1835. The Indian State Legislature formed a commission known as the Prison Discipline Committee, which issued its first report in 1838. The study highlighted the jail administration’s shortcomings in preserving inmate decorum.[6]

It was opposed to any form of punishment that included moral or religious instruction. The document ushered in a sea change in India’s prison system. In India, this resulted in the establishment of a punitive government. An early review of the jail act was passed in 1870, stating that prisons ought to have a Superintendent, a physician, a jailor, and any subservient policemen as needed. It also mentioned that women, men, and juvenile detainees must be retained apart. The Act also specified the prison officers’ responsibilities and powers.

An independent investigation committee was formed in 1877 and 1894. The Prisons Act of 1894 was passed in response to their proposal. As a result, India’s criminal justice system has made significant progress.[7]

Pre-Independence Prison Reform in India

In 1835, TB Macaulay established India’s current jail system. A group called the Prison Discipline Committee 1836 was formed, and its report was submitted in 1838. This group advocated stricter treatment for the convicts while dismissing any humanitarian requirements and improvements.[8] Central Prisons were built between 1836 and 1838, following the recommendations of the Macaulay Committee. As a result, India’s current jail system is a relic of British control. The Indian Jail Reforms Committee, led by Sir Alexander Cardio, was established in 1919-20 to recommend steps for prison reform. The jail committee also suggested that, as part of prison reform, every jail’s maximal intake capability be regulated, based on its form and structure.

Sir Alexander Cardew was the chairman of the Indian jail reform commission, which was formed to recommend prison changes in 1919-20. After examining the state of prisoners across the world, the commission came to the conclusion that institutions not only should have an evolving theoretical, but also a rehabilitative strategy.The committee stressed the importance of a reformative approach to convicts and condemned the use of physical punishment in prisons. It proposed that a prisoner be used for constructive purposes. The Committee emphasised the importance of post-release rehabilitation programmes for freed convicts.[9]

Post-Independence Prison Reform in India

Following Independence, work on prison reform accelerated. As a result, in 1956, the sentence of transportation was replaced by life imprisonment.The All India Committee on Jail Reforms, chaired by Justice Anand Narain Mulla, was established by the Indian government in 1980-83.  The Committee’s main goal was to evaluate laws, rules, and rules. In 1983, the Mulla Committee issued their report. The All India Jail Committee aims to achieve parity in the legal structure governing jail management between states and union territories. The Committee recommended that a National Prison Commission be established as a permanent organisation to modernise India’s jails.ations with the overarching goal of safeguarding society and rehabilitating offenders in mind.[10]

In 1949, the Pakawasha Committee authorised the use of inmates in the construction of roads in exchange for payment of salaries. Following that, in 1951, Dr. W.C. Reckless made a suggestion for jail reform (Technical Expert). In 1957, the group was tasked with preparing an All India Jail Manual based on Dr. W.C. Reckless’ recommendations.[11]

In 1857, the Government of India formed the All India Jail Handbook Committee to draught a model jail manual. In 1960, the committee submitted its report. The group was instructed to look at the difficulties with jail administration and provide recommendations for changes that may be implemented across India.[12]

A Juvenile Justice Act was enacted in 1986, and surveillance institutions, specialized residences, and juvenile dwellings were established as places wherein abandoned adolescents and juvenile delinquents may be enrolled. Juvenile delinquents could not be held in jail.

The Justice Krishna Iyer Committee was established by the Indian government in 1987 to conduct a study on the status of women inmates in India.[13]

International Obligations and Guidelines

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)[14] continued to be the basic international treaty on the security of the privileges of prisoners. India approved the Covenant in 1979 and will undoubtedly consolidate its arrangements into domestic law and state practice. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)[15] states that prisoners reserve a privilege to the most elevated achievable norm of physical and emotional wellness. Aside from common and political rights, the so-called  second generation economic and social human rights  as put down in the ICESCR additionally apply to the prisoners.

The previous United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, 1955[16] comprises 5 parts and 95 rules. Part one gives rules to general applications. It proclaims that there will be no ‘separation on grounds of race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other assessment, public or social beginning, property, birth or other status. Simultaneously there is a solid requirement regarding the strict conviction and good statutes of the group to which a prisoner has a place. The standard guidelines give due thought to the detachment of the various classifications of prisoners. It specifies that males and females be confined in different institutions. The under-trial prisoners are to be kept separate from convicted detainees. Further, it advocates total detachment between the prisoners kept under civil law and criminal offenses. The UN standard Minimum Rule likewise made it compulsory to give separate residence to juvenile and child prisoners from the adult prisoners. Following UN orders have been the Essential Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners (United Nations 1990) and the Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Detainment (United Nations 1988).[17]

On the issue of jail offenses and discipline, the standard minimum rules are very clear. The guidelines express that “no prisoner shall be punished except if the individual in question has been notified regarding the offenses affirmed against him/her and offered an appropriate chance of introducing his/her defense”. It suggests that corporal punishment, by putting in a dull cell and all “cruel, in-human or corrupting disciplines will be totally forbidden as a method of discipline and disciplinary action” in the jails.

Technique of Prison Reforms

The ideal objective of reformation or rehabilitation of offenders is accomplished through different instruments and methods in the jail. Some instruments and methods of prison reforms are as follows:

  • Probation: The word Probation is an important tool of reformative penology; it is fundamentally a period during which the convict requested to go through sentence remains, rather than being in jail, under oversight. The acquittal of the convict on probation is delivered  as a reformative treatment plan endorsed by the sentencing court and over the span of this treatment, the convict on probation lives inside his local area and balances his own life under conditions ordered by the court and stays under  the parole supervision.[18]
  • Parole: Parole is the discharge from a penal reformative institution of an offender under the criminal control of correctional authorities in an effort to discover if he is fit to live in the free society without supervision. It is consequently the last stage in the correctional plan of which probation may likely be the first. After the cautious investigation just as showing the potential for correction he is permitted to join the general public restrictively.[19]
  • Furlough: Furlough is another reformatory device that is regularly mistaken for parole. Without a doubt, parole and Furlough are reformative devices of the penal system yet both are unique. Furlough should be conceded to the prisoners occasionally independent of a specific explanation. The purpose behind this tool is just to authorize him to hold family and social ties and stay away from adverse consequences of a nonstop prison life. The time of furlough is treated as reduction of sentence.
  • Pardon: The term pardon is a demonstration of benevolence by which the prisoner is cleared from the punishment which was imposed on him; the grant of pardon might be total or contingent. In India, there are certain provisions under Article 72[20] and 161[21] of the Indian constitution which provides that the President of India and the Governors of the states separately are authorized to grant pardon, acquit or reduce the sentence of any convict.
  • Open prisons: Open Prisons are also known as open air camps, open prisons are another important instrument of criminal reformation. Open Prisons institutions are basically a 21st century gadget for rehabilitating prisoners to common life in the general public through an escalated after care program. They give work to the prisoners in timberlands, agrarian homesteads and construction sites as opposed to permitting them to be inactive inside the jail cells. These jails play a significant part in the plan of reformation of an inmate which must be one of the rules of reformative administration. In India, the first open jail was begun in the year 1905 in Bombay administration, but this open jail was shut in 1910. Then, in the year 1953, Uttar Pradesh set up the first open jail in India.[22]
  • Self Governance by Inmate: Under the structure of self government in jails, the inmates choose a few of their companion prisoners as their representatives and the whole prison administration is controlled by that chosen body of inmates, who exercise total or if nothing else halfway power over wreck and are required to deal with the interests and welfare of their fellow inmates.
  • Work Release: It is viewed as a very efficient reformation tool in current criminal equity. In this strategy, the inmate is permitted to work for pay in the general public on a part time basis. This offers him a chance to socialize with the general public in a normal way with no constraints. This assists the inmates to adapt in the circumstance at the workplace after the release.
  • Vipassana: Vipassana is a clear method to accomplish true serenity and to carry on with a glad and helpful life. The first Vipassana course in a jail occurred in Jaipur, India in 1975.[23] But it was solely after nearly 20 years that Vipassana set up itself as a tool for social and prison reform in the 1990’s, it was with this reason for managing the emotional and psychological issues of jail inmates, it turned into an indispensable part of the prison which helped in building community and also fostering their character in a positive way.

General Issues Concerning Prison Reform

  • Mulaqat System

The system of Mulaqat i.e. family gatherings of inmates in prison should be viewed in a serious way as it is considered an efficient but unexploited tool of reformation however the inmates are permitted to meet their near family members at fixed intermission, the mulaqat is for a very small time frame and in very awkward atmosphere with no security during such meetings. The gatherings under the surveillance of jail guards are truly humiliating for inmates and also the guests for need of seclusion. The right of the inmates to convey and meet friends, family members and legal counselors ought not be confined past a specific limit.[24]

  • Communication by post or mail

The current rules identifying with the limitations and examination of postal mail of prisoners ought to be changed. This will infuse trust and faith among detainees for the jail authorities, mostly the mere excuse introduced by the jail authorities in support of such limitations is that the same is done in the interest of security of the prison.

  • Vocational Education and Training

The proceeding with training of detainees is one more device that keeps them involved and furthermore would help their recovery after discharge from prison. There ought to be a more prominent accentuation on professional preparation of prisoners which will give them noteworthy intentions to procure their occupation after discharge from prison. The goal is to empower them to acquire the abilities and capabilities that could help them work on discharge.

  • Spiritual trainings

A few penologists have pushed the requirement for profound preparation of the detainees, which is surely a positive advance towards renewal. It is emphatically accepted that the act of yoga and reflection can empower the detainees to control their brain and furthermore twists the negative disposition to positive one. This way to deal with jail changes will doubtlessly achieve a positive change in the disposition of detainees and help in their restoration.

The Indian Judicial framework has played an important role toward detainees and furthermore to guarantee wellbeing and security of individuals in custody or prisoners are as per the following with the help of choosing Case Laws :

  • Sunil Batra v. Delhi Administration[25]

The Apex court held that inmates are entitled for all fundamental rights which are consistent with their detainment.

Highlighting the requirement for sympathetic treatment of detainees and conserving their essential human rights, the Supreme court in Sunil Batra II (1983) 3 SCC 488, saw as follows :-

“Fundamental rights don’t escape the people as he enters the jail in spite of the fact that they might endure shrinkage required by imprisonment.”

Defining the meaningful and procedural rights to which the inmates are entitled, the Apex court said : ” Infliction might take numerous changeable structures apart from actual attacks. Pushing the inmate into a lone cell, contradiction of important convenience and more terrible sometimes, moving to a far off jail where visits or society of companions or relations might be snapped, allocation of demeaning labour, allotting him to a dangerous or tough gang and such, might be punitive in result. Each such association or epitome is an infraction of freedom or life in its more extensive sense also, can’t be sustained.

  • K. Basu v. State of West Bengal[26]

It was held that the particulars of arrest need to be given to the friend or relative of the accused quickly, while he is detained. The object is extremely evident that, by this correspondence the family member or friends of the guilty can begin the endeavors to know current facts of the accused, to get the lawful exhortation and take the defense against an application for remand and do the vital preparation for bail.

  • Rudal Shah v. State of Bihar[27]

It was held that, if the preliminary against a detainee concludes into acquittal, the detainee is entitled as a matter of right to be released immediately. After an order for acquittal, he can’t be kept behind the jail walls.

  • Re Inhuman Conditions in 1382 Prisoners case[28]

The Counsel for the Petitioner recorded before the Supreme court of India under Article 32[29] of the Indian Constitution to address the situation with Prison reforms in India and to issue regulations, if important for Prison reforms. The Prisoners are no less human than others and in this manner should be treated with respect. The Supreme court of India as of late on March 14, 2016 conveyed a milestone judgment with respect to the lawful and constitutional rights  of inmates in India particularly the under trial detainees. In adherence to the court’s commands the Model Prison Manual 2016 provides establishment of an under trial survey committee consisting of Secretary, local administration lawful authority alongside the district judge, as chairperson, the district magistrate and the district superintendent of police.[30]


Prison is the significant wing of the organization of wrongdoing and criminal science in the country. Unexpectedly the research in its improvement is as yet in outset. There are numerous obstacles to cross for the prisons to be a reformative institution rather than a custodial home of torment. The advancement is primarily obstructed by variables like resource allocation, impediment elements of punishment and rehabilitation approach. Prisons in the nation shall try to change and re-absorb guilty parties in the social milieu by giving them proper restorative treatment. However there have been ideas and suggestions by different panels, the main concern in India stands to be that of actual enforcement.

Taking everything into account it should not be neglected that the issue of prison administration and reformation of prisoners is only a piece of the master plan of social recuperation. The prison association alone can’t adequately reform the prisoners. It can simply attempt its humble attempts to change the inmates; nonetheless, attempts will succeed just when our economics, education, social institution and value are suitably organized into a relevant and amicable entirety considering the learning of the human establishment.


[1] Prisons Act, 1894, Section 3

[2] Prison Records 2016, National Crime records bureau,

[3] Legal Method, Indian Legal System and Basic Theories of Law, Law Faculty, Delhi University (Jul. 2020),

[4] Why promote prison reform, United Nations,

[5] Idib

[6] Report of the Committee on Prison-Discipline to the Governor General, Google Books,

[7] Shri G. Ranga Rao, Shri Vinod Kumar, Shri Atul Kaushik, Kalpana Sharma and Shri R.N. Das, Prison Reform in India, Parliament Library India (Jul. 2017),

[8] Supra Note 6

[9] Paranjape NV, Criminology & Penology with Victimology, (Sixteenth Edition, Central Law Publications, 470,479 (2014)

[10] Zubair Ahmed, “Jail reforms in India in- A study of Indian jail reform committees” 1 International Journal of Multidisciplinary Education and Research, Page No. 01-04, (2016)

[11]  Kaustubh Rote ,PRISON REFORM AND SOCIAL CHANGE IN INDIA, gr kare Law Library,

[12] Rishabh Bhargav, A Critical Study of Prison Reforms in India, Pen Acclaims (Jul. 2018),

[13] Idib.

[14] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, United Nation Human Rights,

[15] International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, United Nation Human Rights,

[16] Nelson Mandela Rules, Nelson Mandela international Day

[17] Suresh Bada Math, Pratima Murthy, Rajani Parthasarthy, C Naveen Kumar & S Madhusudhan, The Bangalore Prison Mental Health Study: Local Lesson for National Action, National Institute of Mental Health Neuro Sciences, Bangalore,

[18] Uzair Ahmad Khan, Legal Backdrop of Prison Reforms, IBlog Pleaders (Oct. 24, 2019),

[19] Rishabh Bhargava, A Critical Study of Prison Reforms in India, 2 Pen Acclaims 1, 9-9 (2018).

[20] India Const., 1950, art. 72.

[21] India Const., 1950, art. 161.

[22] supra note 19.

[23] Charu Chowdhary, Top Vipassana Centres in India For a Rejuvenating Meditation Retreat, (Aug. 8, 2019, 3:03 p.m.),

[24] supra note 22.

[25] Sunil Batra v. Delhi Administration, 1980 AIR 1579.

[26] D. K. Basu v. State of West Bengal, 50 AIR 1997 SC 610.

[27] Rudul Sah v. State Of Bihar And Anr, 1983 AIR 1086.

[28] Re-Inhuman Conditions In 1382 Prisons v. State Of Assam, WP No. 406 OF 2013.

[29] India Const., 1950, art. 32.

[30] supra note 18.

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Dhiraj Roy
Dhiraj Roy
9 months ago

Very knowledgeable.