Release undertrials after filing charge sheet: NHRC

Release undertrials after filing charge sheet: NHRC

Undertrials should be released after charge sheets have been filed against them to rid jails of the “serious problem” of overcrowding, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) chairman Justice K G Balakrishnan said.

Inaugurating a two-day national seminar on prison reforms organised by the NHRC, Justice Balakrishnan said overcrowding the prisons cause serious violation of prisoners’ rights, noting that "Prisons are for convicts and not for undertrials.” The ‘Prison Statistics 2013’, released late October, reveals that a record 4.11 lakh prisoners crowd jails across the country, with 118 inmates sharing space meant for 100.

The statistics notes that 67.6 per cent, or 2.78 lakh, are undertrials, whose numbers rose from 2.54 lakh in 2012.

Taking cognizance of overcrowding jails, the Supreme Court had asked the Centre to ensure release of undertrials who had spent more than half their prison terms.
Balakrishnan said prison reforms are not only a serious concern for the NHRC, but also a vital step to improve the criminal justice system.

"Prisons come under states and the respective High Courts can make a major contribution in giving directions to the state governments on prisoners' complaint about the lack of infrastructure facilities, food, hygiene and healthcare among other things,” the former CJI said, adding that states must spend more to improve conditions in prison. Justice Cyriac Joseph, member, NHRC, said 18 years after the Supreme Court identified nine problem areas in prison reforms; nothing has been done to fix them.

The court had identified overcrowding, delay in trials, torture, neglect of health and hygiene, food and clothing, deficiency in communication system and streamlining of jail visits as the main problem areas.