Image source:

This article is written by Shyantika Khan enrolled in BBA LLB (Hons.) from Amity University, Kolkata. In this article, the author compares and contrasts the rights of prisoners between India and rest of the world.


“On the path, we stand today, be it a journey towards justice we shall procure”


Download Now


The right to life should always be interpreted in its broader perspective which is not only confined to a right but the quality of life we lead. The prisoners who are in captivity are a result of their wrongdoings to the land laws of a country but their basic human rights which are conferred by several conventions and the Constitution laws must not be infringed at any cost. The research work deals with different laws and regulations adopted by India in relation to rights which could be availed by the prisoners. It also talks about how basic human rights are abused in jail. The legislation and suggestive case laws are additional factors to establish the necessity of prisoner rights.

The term ‘prisoner’ could be used to refer to any person who has breached the law of the land and is thus in police custody restraining his liberty for the welfare of the society. A person in the jail is left to suffer in the most inhuman and derogatory conditions. They suffer human rights abuse while in jail. But we need to remember that prisoners in modern democracy do not have civil rights but they must be allowed reformative approaches. A person cannot reform himself or herself into a better person, if a reformative approach is not adopted. If we have a reality check of prison, a few words strike our ears- overcrowding, congestion and lack of safety. They are not only secluded from the world but are exposed to danger even in prisons. According to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), they must be treated with dignity and their right to life which includes their basic requirements and safety must not be infringed. They must also be protected from inhuman torture thereof. Human rights are essential for a person to survive and thus despite any crimes committed thereof, prisoners must not be let to suffer.

Prisoner Rights in India

The Constitution of India empowers us with one of the basic fundamental rights – Right to life and Personal Liberty mentioned in Article 21 which implicitly states the right to life with dignity. Certain articles mentioned in our Constitution like Article 14, 20, 21, 22 deals with prisoner rights in India. Article 14 talks of equality of law whereas Article 20 prohibits self- incrimination and double jeopardy. Article 21 is vast in its own terms which states the right to life with personal liberty. Under its ambit, certain rights find its place like right to food, bail, speedy trial and free legal aid services. Article 21 provides prisoners with right against custodial violence and right to health in order to maintain basic human dignity. There have been certain legislations regarding prisoner rights in India. They have several other rights like right against inhuman treatment inside the jail, right to consult a lawyer and right against solitary confinement.  Right to interview and meet with friends and family is one the important prisoner rights.

Prisoner Rights in International Law

According to International Laws, a number of treaties and conventions suggests Prisoner rights. Several Civil rights were being denied when World Wars took place and a number of prisoners were forced labourers or murdered recklessly. This brought about a change in the International prisoner laws. The United Nations laid down certain minimum requirements for the treatment of the prisoners. It offers rules stating proper food, good hygiene, bedding, medical facilities for the prisoners.  Article 3 of the Universal Declaration clearly point out that the right to life must be available to both prisoner and freeman in the society. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights looks into the same matter and Art. 10 states that no person must be deprived of his liberty and human dignity must be taken care of. It pulls down a line between pretrial and post-trial accused persons. The basic aim of these treaties and conventions is that no prison must suffer inhuman torture or a degrading treatment. Above

Human Rights Violations in Prisons

Basic human rights that are conferred to every individual are violated on a day to day basis in the prisons. They are let to suffer in a congested environment in the small cells of prison with the other prisoners. Custodial rapes are increasing in jails wherein a place which confines a person for society’s welfare, the person ends up losing one’s dignity. Physical tortures and the amount of violence faced by prisoners is unbearable and sometimes it leads to what we call as custodial deaths. Genocide, slavery and murdering prisoners in name of encounters are witnessed in several jails across the world. Right to life which is a fundamental requirement is infringed. Another cause of death in prison is malnutrition. No proper food and hygienic environment are provided to them. Taking various examples of different prisons in the world could explain human rights abuse. In Venezuelan prison, rape and extortion are faced by the inmates and only one guard looks after 150 people. In Panama’s Modelo Prison it was seen that the prison contained more people than its capacity. In the United States of America, ACLU looked into the matter of solitary confinement matters of prisoners and says that an end to the stemming violation is quite necessary. In Iraq, there were certain accusations of prison abuse in 2003 and they said prisoners were forced to strip and subjected to inhuman tortures.

COVID-19 and Indian Prisons

Coronavirus, one of the deadliest epidemics faced by the world in the current time. There are overcrowding and undertrial prisoners in the jails who are in trouble. States are reluctant to check out the overcrowding factor of the prisons. Due to overcrowding, the State government was forced to take action and release a number of detainees on parole and jail lockdowns were called. Health experts said that the crowded prisons may impose health problems and the disease may spread as it is a communicable disease and turn into a terrifying situation. It was said not only it will infect the prisoners but also the guards. Reports stated that in Madhya Pradesh Jail around 20 inmates tasted Corona positive. World Health Organisation after predicting the pandemic urged the prison officials and government of many countries to reduce the prisoner numbers as the virus is spreading quickly. Two major situations are to be focused in this tough time – one of which includes infructuous Model Prison Manual, 2016 to handle epidemic and the next one is mental health ignorance of prisoners. Supreme Court asked the state government to see the matter and CJI Sharad Arbind Bobde said that a committee must be formed to classify between the prisoners and distinct which class of prisoners may be released. Statistics held that about 12000 prisoners are released till the April count. 

Legislation Related to Prisoners Rights

Prisoners Act, 1894

The Prisons Act, 1894 is one of the ancient prison laws of India. Chapter VII of the act states regarding prisoner employment related issues whereby it says they may work after superintendent’s permission and would receive their earnings thereof but a rule said that they must not work for more than 9 hours per day. Section 37 of the Prisoner’s Act,1894 says that if in any case any prisoner is found to be sick, the officer in charge would talk to the Jailer and without further delay must call Medical Subordinate. Other parts of the Act talks about whether Civil or under trial prisoners could have their commodities like clothing, bedding or food received from outside the prison.

The Transfer of Prisoner Act, 1950

The aim of the act was such that the prisoner could be transferred between states in India with the purpose of vocational training and lessening over-populated jails and maintaining the basic human dignity.

Americans with Disabilities Act, 1990

The act says that taking into consideration all the disability factors, there would be no distinction between prisoner and non- prisoner. Protection of disabled prisoner and guarantee, The required accommodation is a key point to be reflected herein.

Case Laws

M.H. Hoskot v. State of Maharashtra AIR 1987 SC 1548

Supreme Court of India said that free legal aid must be provided by State to the accused if in case it could not have been afforded by the person

Hussainara Khatoon v. Home Secretary, State of Bihar AIR 1979 SC 1360

In this case, it was held that Article 21 of the Indian Constitution would be violated if under-trial prisoners are held on for a longer period.

Zahira Habibulla H. Sheikh v. State of Gujarat AIR 2004 SC 3114

In this case, it was held by the Court that there must be fair trial to concerned matters and denial of fairness would harm both the victim and accused.

Taylor v. Attorney General NZHC 1706

The judge who looked into this appeal matter pronounced that according to the Electoral Amendment Act, all voting rights were taken off from prisoners and the New Zealand Bill of Rights prohibited the prisoner voting system.

Kashmira Singh v. State of Punjab AIR 1977 SC 2147

The Supreme Court in its decision pointed out that right to bail comes under the terminology “personal liberty” in article 21 of Indian Constitution and detaining a person in jail for years for a crime not committed by him/her is a breach of justice.

Hirst v. United Kingdom (2006) 42 EHRR 41

The facts were such that a prisoner was not allowed to vote U/S 3 of Representation of People Act, 1983 but then he filed a case stating his right to vote was being infringed. The judgment by The European Human Rights Court stated that British prisoner’s right to vote could be taken away according to law.

Prem Sankar v. Delhi Administration AIR 1980 SC 1535

The court directed UOI to look into the matter and said that handcuffing is inhuman and violative of Article 21.

Bonner v. Coughlin 545 F.2d 565 (7th Cir. 1976)

In this USA case, the prisoner went to Court for claiming damages stating that the prison guards left his cell open and so due to their negligence his trial transcript was at loss. it was said that prison inmates have privacy rights with limitations.

Cooper v. Pate 378 US 546

It is a 1964 case in which a Muslim prisoner was not allowed to get religious publications. It was an appeal in which the Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s judgment stating that the petitioner case was to be heard and it had merits in it. It was made to understand that even in prisons all religions must be treated equally.

Sheela Barse v. State of Maharashtra JT 1988 (3) 15

It is an Indian case wherein the Court kept into consideration the ill-treatment of prisoners and held that if a person is arrested without a warrant, he must be immediately informed of the grounds and thus bail application could be made.


Looking into the derogatory circumstances, stringent legislation must be made for their welfare and better protection must be provided to them by judge-made laws. In the current situation of the epidemic across the globe, many prisoners are released for committing non-heinous. crimes Circumstances turns a person to commit a crime. Therefore, a proper rehabilitation and a reformative approach must be adopted. When an income generating member goes to jail for the wrongdoing, his or her family has to suffer. The State in a developing country does not provide financial assistance to that particular family. A family without bread in their mouth cannot think of affording a lawyer to bail the prisoner. State must thus maintain the fundamental right to equality and treat them equal as any other person. UNODC firmly believes in the concept that a prison reform can only be brought about if criminal justice policies are rationalised and adoption of multi-disciplinary services towards prison. Overcrowding in prison and better healthcare systems can thus improve the prison conditions and national legislations could be a fuel to the process.

LawSikho has created a telegram group for exchanging legal knowledge, referrals and various opportunities. You can click on this link and join:

Follow us on Instagram and subscribe to our YouTube channel for more amazing legal content.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here