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This article is written by Somya Janki from the Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology. This is an exhaustive article which discusses private prisons and ways to stop corruption.


Prison is meant to keep the offenders or someone who is involved in any sort of crime. But what if the prison themselves become a place of crime. It may sound a bit bizarre but it is not surreal at all. Well, it all revolves around a place called for-profit prisons or also private prisons. But here comes a question: what are these private prisons? Why are they private isn’t it the work of the government? But before coming to it we need to get familiarised with the term prison. Thus, the term prison means the places of detention where those who have committed or suspected to do or are sort of accomplice in the acts of deviance are kept for their custody during the trial or those who are sentenced after being found guilty. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime definition of prison, “These are places of detention within a criminal justice system, holding all prisoners, including those who are held during the investigation of a crime, while awaiting trial, after conviction and before and after sentencing”. While the Prisons Act, 1894 defines the term prison as, “inclusively as buildings maintained by state governments with the purpose to detain prisoners.” It also draws a line of distinction between prisoners as “criminal” , “civil” and “ convicted” prisoners.

Another thing to be taken into consideration is that prison does not imply a jail. The term prison and jail which may sound synonymous but they are quite different from each other. Jail is something which is called the big house, they have smaller facilities and fewer in many prisoners, they are usually run by a local government and the people being locked up are usually for minor offences or misdemeanour like petty thefts, trespass, reckless driving, vandalism of public property, etc. for which punishments are not that severe and in some cases, a person may be detained in jail for the reason of awaiting trial. While prisons are completely a different world where the prisoners cannot be found to be held there for misdemeanours but something like grave crimes or felonies like committing murder, rape, burglary, etc. The prisoners are held for longer sentences and at worst for life imprisonment and they usually serve for criminal rehabilitation. And last but not least jails are usually under the local government and could be found in police stations, while prisons are completely a different detention centre which is managed by the state government.

For-profit prison system : an analysis 

Now, here comes the most intriguing part of our discussion: what does for-profit prison or private prison imply? So there are mainly two types of prison, one is a public prison which is owned by the government itself and it has the primary responsibility of allotting the cells, staff, and guards, carrying out the administrative functions and many more. 

While on the other hand, private prisons are those where these duties of government are carried out by the private industries or businesses contracted by the government and are responsible for managing the administration and assigning inmates, providing staff and security, food and cleaning facilities, etc. But here comes another sign of a question mark. Why would the private industries do it in the first place and get hold of it? We need to ponder upon how it earns or makes money. Therefore, private prisons are not something of the sort employed on their own will but they have a contract with the government to detain these prisoners and for this, they get money for all the expenses they incur in keeping these prisoners. For instance, the daily cost of maintenance of a single prisoner is INR 100 and there are about 1000 prisoners in the whole prison-house, so they will get that amount that is required for the maintenance of all i.e. INR 1,00,000 per day. This is how these private prisons function and besides they have certain functionality which makes them advantageous over the public prison. They can enumerate as –

Creation of jobs

The very first fact about privatization of prisons has generated employment for many as it requires various service jobs to manage it and support the population inside these houses thereby providing job opportunities in numerous ways.

Eases the uproar in public ones

One of the primary reasons for which these prisons was lack of more prisons from the government so to serve this the private sector stepped into it, another advantage that it put forwards being private one is that in case of fewer lock-ups it can quickly fill it up as for them it does not take much time to implement on it.

Maintains equilibrium in a ratio

Many times in public prisons it happens that the ratio of staff and security are outnumbered by the prisoners’ population from the optimum level which is not in the case of private prisons.

Produces consistent results

A private source can anyway make money in multiple ways so it would be consistent with necessities it supplies which are not in the case of public prisons run by the government where much of the thought process is on having minimal expenditure.

However, there are certain disadvantages of private prisons or also well known as for-profit prisons, which revolves around just one factor that is corruption but it produces many facades of disadvantage within it.

Corruption and its growing roots

  • The main evil within private prisons is corruption which is very much deep-rooted in it. The corruption owes to the very fact that these private sectors are part of the private industrial owners who are wealthy conglomerates and entrepreneurs seeking profits.
  • This is very much evident from the fact that private prisons do treat their prisoners as their commodity or assets for their profits rather than as humans. Therefore, unless people do not commit crimes how would the private prisons earn money, so they have this incentive to keep the prisoners for a longer duration of time to fill up their pockets. That is the reason why the prisoners do serve a longer sentence in private prisons in comparison to public ones. 
  • They nowhere take any obligations towards the community, the very purpose for them is the contract so they usually carry out responsibility for the prisoners’ necessity and talk about the maintenance of the cells or upgrading them since they have no liability they do not bother to do so. 
  • To swell their profits they at times choose the prisoner population themselves which would help them to do so. 
  • The most important fact is that public prisons work on the main objective of rehabilitation of criminals to reduce recidivism while private on making more gold which is why they lack transparency in their system. 
  • This contributes to another outcome that the laws, rules and regulations are usually turned in a way for their purpose. This lack of appropriate use of legislation has led to a surge in the violence in these prisons.
  • These prison industries also limit the opportunities of the prisoners, they do not bother to organise vocational training or boot camps for the prisoners thereby not contributing to the rehabilitation process. 

These are the disadvantages of for-profit prisons over the public ones which are the outcome of solely a single factor that is corruption or their want for profit. But these profits come at the cost of violation of prisoners’ rights. But various rights are conferred by legislation to take action against the prison authorities.

Prisoners’ rights under Indian and International laws and legislations (against the corruption prevalent in the private prisons)

The Prison Act of 1894

This was the first legislation regarding prisons in India. These acts lay down the norms for the prisoners’ cells along with their maintenance facilities. It has the following provisions:

  • Maintenance of prison cells laid under Chapter II of the Prison Act of 1894.
  • Chapter III provides the framework of duties of the officers of these prisons.
  • Further in Chapter IV points pertinent to admission, removal, and discharge of prisoners are laid.
  • Some Sections enumerate the separation of prisons for male, female or criminal, civil, convicted, and under trials prisoners.
  • There are provisions related to punishment for offences committed by prison subordinates.

The Prisoners Bill of 1890

The Prisoners Bill of 1890 lays that it is the foremost duty of the government against any prisoner who is detained under any order or sentence of any court and is of unsound mind to be transferred to a mental asylum or any other place where he will be given proper treatment.

The Transfer of Prisoners Act of 1950

The Transfer of Prisoners Act of 1950 was passed keeping in view to avoid overpopulation in prisons. The very essence of it is to get the prisoners transferred from one state to another for vocational training for their rehabilitation and also to get rid of overcrowding.

Fundamental rights enshrined within the constitution

A person even though he is imprisoned has fundamental rights as they are the natural rights of every human. However, he does not full armour of it, nevertheless, they are bestowed upon these are as follows –

  • Right to Equality – Under Article 14 of the Indian Constitution, every person is equal before the law and the state cannot discriminate against people.
  • Right to Freedom – As laid under Article 19 of the Constitution every citizen has freedom of speech and expression with reasonable restrictions to it. And further, he has the right in respect to protection against the conviction of offences. Article 21 which forms the quintessential of prisoners’ right yet is the most violated one. It confers the right to life and personal liberty, further in extension it also lays down the point to live with dignity and the right to privacy too. It also gives the right to health, the right to speedy trials, and the right against inhumane treatment. These rights are a part of international human rights upon the infringement of which there can be a heavy punishment.
  • The Constitution under Article 21A also provides the right to education. There are at times the prison authorities don’t bother about the rehabilitation of criminal acts, under this article not only they have imparted right education to the prisoners but also give them vocational pieces of training in workshops.
  • And last but not the least, the 49th Amendment of the Constitution incorporated Article 39A which lays the provision of free legal aid. It is quite pertinent for the prisoners’ who are to have their trial and lack resources for their legal aid.

There are also certain provisions in the favour of prisoners in foreign law like the United Nations Core Conventions and Specific Instruments and in the United Nations Charter which have altogether same laws about prisoners’ rights such as the right to equality, separation of prisoners, prohibition of inhuman degrading punishments.

Possible ways to curb corruption

The problems of corruption find their origin from the mindsets – the differences of mindset. The capitalist mindset says if an industry can run privately it is the best for the economy while the socialist mindset says that the government should be supplying those services. However, the realist says that the prison system is overcrowded as it is. If we suggest that private prisons should keep their corruption in control, isn’t it like buying ice cream for a kid and then not letting him eat? The only solution to curb it is that the government should try to minimise their dependence on private sectors and with time bring back to the old public prison system because it is quite evident the private firms take up the task to seek profit. Why would the for-profit system of prisons run in the first place then if they have no gains? It’s a game of economics they would do no matter what. Thus, the best plausible way which seems to be practical enough is by switching steadily to public prisons and increasing the number of prisons.


Although the for-profit system is not prevalent in India the conditions existing can contribute to the thriving of these private prisons. The consequences of it are well known, there would be rampant corruption and gross violation of fundamental rights of the prisoners. Once a system comes into existence it becomes hard to obliterate it. As far as the nation-states like the United States of America, United Kingdom are concerned, if it is seen realistically it isn’t possible to wipe out the corruption from the private prisons because the intention of their owners is primarily to earn profits. So the solution to its creation of more public prisons along with depreciation in the interdependency of these prisons on the private or industrial sector. These incentives should be taken at the time because it is rightly said, “Justice delayed is justice denied”.

References judgments/#Right_to_health_and_medical_treatment

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