Overcrowded jails cause for worry

Parappana

An affidavit filed by the Additional Director-General of Prisons before the Karnataka High Court throws light on the problem of overcrowded jails in the state. Karnataka’s 105 jails, which together have a capacity of 13,800, house 14,206 inmates. That is an excess of 406 inmates or 3% of their total capacity. That is not so bad, compared to the situation in most other states. However, a closer examination of the figures lays bare alarming levels of overcrowding in many jails. In 11 prisons, for instance, overcrowding ranged between 44% to 98%. Bengaluru’s Central Jail houses 4,643 prisoners although it has infrastructure to support only 3,236 inmates. Overcrowding is particularly severe in the Vijayapura Central Jail (98%), and in the district prisons at Koppal (92%) and Haveri (90%).

The overcrowding of jails in Karnataka may not be as serious as it is in other states. Some jails in India have more than 600% more prisoners than they are built to accommodate. Although the problem is not that acute in Karnataka, overcrowding in the state’s jails still poses many problems. From the law enforcement point of view, overcrowding makes monitoring of prisoners a problem. Criminal activities tend to surge inside prisons. The security of jails suffers; prison riots and jailbreaks can be traced directly to overcrowding of prisons in many instances. Unsanitary conditions lead to public health issues, including epidemics that sometimes spread outside the jail. From the prisoners’ viewpoint, inmates have the right to basic amenities. They are denied this when prisons are overcrowded. Importantly, overcrowding of jails worsens mental health of inmates, undermines efforts to reform them and equip them to lead a productive life.

The Karnataka government is reportedly building a couple of high-security prisons with capacity to house around 1,000 inmates in Bengaluru and Mangaluru. New district prisons with higher capacity are being planned at Kalaburagi, Vijayapura and Bidar. In its affidavit, the government says that the overcrowding problem will be solved when these facilities are completed in a few years from now. While expanding prison infrastructure is welcome, simply building more and larger prisons will not help. Sooner or later, they will be overcrowded again, unless the criminal justice system is reformed. Karnataka, like the rest of India, needs to reduce the number of undertrials languishing in its jails. On average, two of three jail inmates are under-trial prisoners, many of whom serve more time in that status than they would if they were convicted. Steps must be taken to deliver justice to undertrials quickly by speeding up trials. It is high time the criminal justice system made use of the provision of plea bargaining to deal with not only the pendency of cases but also to decongest prisons.

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Overcrowded jails cause for worry

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