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WRITTEN BY – Vishad Srivastava
The concept of the prison visiting system is found accepted under the Prisons Act, 1894. The system was introduced to provide transparency within the prisons and bring some degree of accountability to the prison management. Prison visitors can be classified as either official or non-official. Apart from these, other external visitors to prisons can also be appointed by the courts and the Human Rights Commissions. This system is an effective tool to improve prison conditions as well as ensure observance ofprisoners’ legal rights.Prison visitors stand at a unique place within the prison system wherein they have a twofold role to discharge. On the one hand, they act as the eyes and ears of the prisoners to the outside world by providing the prisoners knowledge about their legal rights. On the other hand, they also act as the eyes of the outside world to scrutinise what goes on within the prison walls. Thus a prison visitor not only acts as an accountability mechanism but also as a custodian for prisoners and their rights.Prison visitors act as guardians to ensure that humane conditions prevail within the prison walls. They are well placed to ensure that the directions issued by the courts, the Government and the Human Rights Commissions are properly implemented within the prison. They could enquire into the complaints of the prisoners and assist them in taking remedial action. They may periodically check the register enlisting the period ofdetention of prisoners, which is maintained by the Superintendent under the Prisons Act, or they may ask for such information specifically. Where they find that there are prisoners who can be released under the provisions of CrPC, they can take steps to assist such prisoners in seeking release. The prison visitors can either inform the prisoner of his rights and ways in which he may apply for release or ask the prison authorities to take appropriate action. In future visits, the prison visitors can follow up these cases to ensure that no undertrial has been unnecessarily detained in prison. Prison visitors can also help to create awareness of legal rights and procedures among both the prisoners and prison staff.
The importance of bail provisions and their underutilisation has been reiterated on many occasions. No person should be made to suffer the deprivations of incarceration before she/he has been proven guilty in the eye of the law. By depriving them of their right to liberty through unnecessary detention, the existing system “punishes” the accused in violation of the basic principle of criminal jurisprudence that every person shall be presumed innocent till proven guilty. To ensure justice for undertrial prisoners, it is essential to effectively implement the existing provisions of CrPC. All the agencies of the criminal justice system including the police, the judiciary, the prosecution, the defence lawyers and the prison department must adopt a concerted and a well-coordinated approach to ameliorate the plight of the “forgotten souls”.