Written By: Shajeeda Tajdeen
Prisoners and convicts are legal, socially and morally entitled certain rights which a normal human being would possess even when they are behind the bars. Not only the Constitution which is the Grund Norm of the Country but also much other legislation also to some extent acts as a custodian of these rights. Even though prisoners are behind the bars, they do not lose their basic rights which are guaranteed to them by virtue of the Constitution. It should also be taken into consideration that time and again the Judiciary has also protected the interest of these prisoners by following the route of the Constitution.
- State of A.P. v. Challa Ramkrishna Reddy: In this case, the Supreme Court held that till the time a person’s liberty is not constitutionally curtailed he is legally entitled to all his fundamental rights. It is also emphasized on the fact that whether a person is a prisoner, convict, under- trial or detention, he does not cease to be a human being, and thus he is entitled to enjoy all his fundamental rights, including the right to life. And in the event where his right to life and personal liberty is taken away, it has to be done by following the due procedure established by law.
- V. Vatheeswaran v. State of Tamil Nadu: it was held in this case even though the Constitution does not specifically have provisions to directly with the rights of the prisoners, the same can be inferred by the virtue of Article 14, 19 and 21.
- State of Gujarat v Hon’ble High Court of Gujarat: in this case the Apex Court recommended to the States to enact laws with a view to creating a ‘Victim Welfare Fund and Prisoners Welfare Fund’. It stated that a portion of the wages earned by the prisoners would be paid as compensation to the deserving victims through this fund.
Article 21 inter-alia provides the following rights to the prisoners:
- Right to a fair trial
- Right to speedy trial
- Right against custodial violence and death in police lock-ups or encounters
- Right to inmates of protective homes
- Right against cruel and unusual punishment.
- Right to live with human dignity
- Right to free legal aid.
- Right to health and medical treatment
The Constitution in addition to these rights also provides some other rights to the prisoners namely;
- Right to reasonable wages in prison
- Right to meet family, friends and consult a lawyer
- Rights against solitary confinement, handcuffing & bar fetters and protection from torture
- To receive a copy of the judgment at free of cost.
- Right to be released on the due
The Supreme Court has always worked for the upliftment of women so as to make their status in the society better because even today women are considered to be a vulnerable section of the society. And while taking a step ahead in the process of advancement of women the Apex Court in various judgment has granted some special rights and privileges to women prisoners which are as follows:
Special rights for women prisoners:
- Rights to pregnant prisoners:
The Apex Court ordered that it is the responsibility of the concerned jail authorities to ensure that if a pregnant woman has been brought to the jail then basic facilities required in the event of delivery along with pre-natal and post-natal care facilities are present within the jail. It should also be taken into consideration that suitable arrangements for temporary release are also readily available in case of emergency.
- Rights to mother prisoners:
The Hon’ble Supreme Court held that female prisoners shall be permitted to be with their children in the jail till the child attains six years of age, after which the child shall be handed over to a suitable surrogate as per the desire and will of the female prisoner or he/she can even be sent to a suitable institution run by the Social Welfare Department.
The other rights which have been bestowed on the prisoners by the Judiciary include:
- Right to female guard for female security
- Right to interaction with society
- Right to an interview
- Right to socialize
- Right to compensation in case of custodial violence
- Right to apply for mercy and concessional application
- Right to mercy appeal (Pardon, suspension, etc.)
- Right to remission
- Right to leave and special leave (Furlough and Parole)
Prisoner’s Rights under the Prisons Act, 1894
This was the first legislation which was passed in the year 1984, the sole reason for enacting this law was to protect and safeguard the interest of the prisoners. The act not only protects the interest of the prisoners but it also works for their welfare and reformation. The major provisions of this Act are as follows:
- Provision for the shelter and safe custody of the excess number of prisoners who cannot be safely kept in any prison.
- Provisions relating to the examination of prisoners by qualified Medical Officer.
- Accommodation and sanitary conditions for prisoners.
- Provisions relating to the treatment of under-trials, civil prisoners, parole and temporary release of prisoners.
- Provisions relating to separation of prisoners, containing female and male prisoners, civil and criminal prisoners and convicted and under-trial prisoners.
Further, the Act also aims to make the prisoners independent and it talks about various employment provisions also specifically:
Employment of prisoners:
- Employment of civil prisoners: section 34, of the Act, states that with the permission of the Superintendent, a civil prisoner is entitled to work or practice any trade or profession. Civil prisoners who find their own implements and are maintained at the expense of the prison shall be permitted to receive the entire earnings after certain deduction the rate of which shall be determined by Superintendent, for utilizing the implements of the prison and the cost of maintaining the same.
- Employment of criminal prisoners: section 35, states that no criminal prisoner sentenced to labor or employed on labor at his own desire, except on an emergency with the sanction in writing of the Superintendent, be kept to labor for more than nine hours on any one day.
- Employment of prisoner sentenced to simple imprisonment, detenues or under-trial: according to section 36, the Superintendent shall be responsible for making provisions for re-employing all the criminal prisoners who are sentenced to simple imprisonment and no prisoner other than sentenced to rigorous imprisonment shall be entitled to punishment for neglecting their work.
- It means all the prisoners sentenced to simple imprisonment or civil imprisonment or detenue, cannot be forced to do the labor, but free to do if they wish for it. However, jail authority is not empowered to punish them for neglect of work.
The Parliament in the year 2016, made amendments in the Act by passing the ‘Prisons (Amendment) Bill, 2016’, so as to bring the Act in line with the changing needs of reformation.
The Apex Court has at every instance directed and guided the Centre along with all States to prevent and curb the unreasonable delay that is caused in disposing of cases, because ‘Justice delayed is Justice denied’. In the view of the Supreme Court it is the responsibility of the State to provide him with free legal aid unless it is expressly refused by an accused and in the event of failure for providing free legal aid, the trial would even stand vitiated. Regarding this concept, Justice Krishna Iyer declared that “this is the State’s duty and not Government’s charity”.
So it can be easily construed that prisoners are part of the society and they deserve every right to be treated equally and they are also legally entitled to enjoy all the basic rights guaranteed by the Constitution unless and until the same is expressly taken away by the established procedure by law.
 (2000) 5 SCC 712: AIR 2000 SC 2083
 AIR 1983 SC 361: (1983) 2 SCC 68
 AIR 1998 SC 3164
 RD Upadhyay vs State of A.P, AIR 2006 SC 1946
 RD Upadhyayv. vs. State of A.P, AIR 2006 SC 1946
Edited By: Rachit Mehrotra