The Problem of Overcrowding in Prisons in India

Written By: Aviral Ashwani


The word Overcrowding of prisons basically occurs when prison population goes beyond it’s authorized capacity of accommodation.

Overcrowding in the prisons is an important human right issue as it results in deterioration of the general living conditions of the prisoners. Prison officers find it difficult to initiate and continue correctional measures as this Overcrowding creates hindrances in the Reformation process.

Overcrowding is prevalent in almost every country in one form or the other. Not only developing countries like Asia and Africa, developed countries like the USA, Japan, and the UK are also facing these problems.  With the increase in a number of rapists, murderers in recent years, there are obvious reasons for this overpopulation.

Supreme Court in a judgment on a suo moto PIL, observed that prisons in India are crammed with inmates by over one and half times the permissible limit. Apex Court has blamed the governments for not paying any attention to the fundamental rights of under trial and convicts.


  • The Overcrowding of prisons in India is a very serious problem but it is rarely discussed by the government authorities.
  • Taking into consideration the prisons in Delhi or in Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, they have an occupancy rate of approx 150% of their capacity.
  • Prisoners in India are usually kept together in mega dormitories, where the inmates have to live in close proximity where there are even no basic living conditions.
  • Overcrowding takes a toll on already constrained prison resources and even makes a separation between different classes of prisoners difficult.
  • The situation of Overcrowding has been even worse due to a high level of
  • Not even one state or UT has prepared a plan of action which has reduced the crowding and to augment infrastructure so that more space is available to each prisoner.
  • Also, it has been seen that authorities have defied repeated orders of the Supreme Court on prison reforms and decongestion measures.
  • Excessive prison population had created problems of hygiene, sanitation, management and discipline which had a direct impact on the health of inmates and also in their management. 


  • In the leading case of Ram Murthy vs the State of Karnataka, many suggestions were given by the Supreme Court to improve the conditions of prisons basically the Overcrowding in Prisons. The Supreme Court said that Overcrowding can be reduced by release on parole, leave and premature release which helps in Reformation and rehabilitation. Events like sound programme can be organized in jail, prison discipline mentioned in various Jail Manuals needs to be incorporated in new all India Jail Manual to serve as a model for the country.
  • There was a report made by Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad (IIM) which stated about the Overcrowding situation in Punjab jail.

The report stated that there are 26 prisons in Punjab housing 21,263 prisoners.It was found that there was approx 12% Overcrowding in these jails to accommodate 23,610. This is really a big concern.

The nine central jails of Punjab meant to Lodge 15,762 inmates have 17,188 prisoners.

The study had also randomly checked the health status of nearly 200 prisoners. It was found out that their health was adversely affected since they were not getting proper and sufficient space to live.

  • While prisons have been recognized as a correctional facility worldwide, Indian Prisons are still governed by The Prisons Act which is more than 120-year-old

Just as the act is rusty, old, outdated and neglected, the same is the conditions of the prisons.

  • Approx 80% prisoners are under trial leading to overcrowding of jails. Now, this is a huge concern as Right to Speedy Trial is a fundamental right of a prisoner implicit in Article 21 of the Constitution of India.


  • The basic suggestion that can be provided is the government should now build new prisons within a specific time period with all required facilities. Also, maintenance of jail should be upgraded with hygiene and other important facilities.
  • Most Indian Prisons were built in the colonial era, thus now they are needed to be repaired and the part of them are unhabitable for long periods.
  • Since a large number of prisoners are under trial, so to overcome this problem following measures can be taken-
  1. There should be a priority given to the cases of the person on remand over the accused already on bail
  2. There should be Special Courts and Special Look Adalats in prisons
  3. The best method for this can be by extending video conferencing facilities for conducting the trial in courts.
  • The authorities should adopt uniform and adequate policy of parole, remission and premature release.
  • The problem of understaffing should also be taken into account. The government needs to build more prisons and employ more staff to make their functioning more transparent.
  • There should be separate prison cell for under trial. Also, mentally disturbed prisoners should also be kept separately.
  • The institution of open prison seems to be a viable alternative to reduce overcrowding in prisons. It should be made sure that prisoners should not go back to crime after there release and for this purpose they can be given some incentives to live a normal life.


 The % of overcrowding varies from prison to prison in India. It has been observed that overcrowding per se is not constitutionally impermissible, also there is no doubt that it contributes to a greater risk of disease, higher noise level, surveillance problem etc. So these matters should be taken into consideration and worked upon. Life becomes more difficult for prisoner-staff when prisoners are in overcapacity. Also, no state has still now taken any effort to undertake prison reforms and also they have repeatedly defied the apex court directives. It is a gross violation of fundamental and human rights of jail inmates.

Thus now it’s time for the government to build more prisons and also remodel existing ones. Now it’s high time to undertake jail reforms.


Edited By: Rachit Mehrotra

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