Rights of prisioners in Indian Legal System


Liberty is the very essence of human existence. Every living being is born free and desires to have liberty in the course of his life. Every government of the world gives some rights to its citizens by virtue of them being human being. Prisoners are also human beings and have certain basic human rights even if they are detained.

Rights of prisoners

Constitutional provisions :

Following provisions in the constitution as well as other laws provide for the rights of the prisoners:

Article 14 :

Article 14 of the Indian Constitution states that the state shall not deny to any individual within the territory of India the equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws.
Article 14 serves as a guide for the jail authorities to identify different prisoner's categories and their classifications.

Article 19:

Six freedoms are granted under article 19 of the constitution which includes right to freedom of speech and expression, right to join association, right to occupation etc. Like citizens, prisoners also have rights available under article 19. However these rights are not absolute and government may impose certain restrictions upon them.

Article 20 :

Article 20 (1) protects the person from ex post facto laws. It provides to protect a prisoner from being subjected to any punishment which were not authorised by law at the time when he committed the alleged act or for which he was convicted and sentenced after the trial than provided under the law.
Article 20 (2) embodies the principle of double jeopardy that no person shall be prosecuted and punished for the same offence more than one.

Article 39 A

Article 39 A of the constitution provides that the state shall secure the operation of legal system, promotes justice on the basis of equal opportunity and shall provide for free legal aid by suitable legislation or schemes to ensure that opportunities for security justice is not denied to any citizen by reason of economic or other disability.

Article 21 :

Article 21 provides no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except in accordance with the procedure established by law.
Every person has right to life even if he is detained no person can be denied his right to life except under exceptional circumstances which the law provides.

Statutory provisions :

Right to free legal aid:

Article 39 A of Indian Constitution provides that the state shall provide free legal aid to the needy. Also the right to appeal from session courts to High Court as provided by the CRPC has been given to prisoners as a component of fair procedure.

Right to speedy trial :

'Justice delayed is justice denied' is a popular saying which provides justice must be done without unnecessary delay. Therefore every prisoner has a right of speedy trial however a balance has to be made between accused's right to a Swift trial and prosecution's right to a fair opportunity to prove the accused guilt. The fundamental principle of criminal jurisprudence in India is that a person is deemed innocent until found guilty.

Right to fair trial:

A fair trial is an essential component of a democratic society where rule of law is prevalent. Fair trial means both the parties must be heard. Equal opportunity must be given and the court shall deliver its judgement on the basis of facts and evidence produce before it without any impartiality.

Right to live a life with dignity:

Like every citizen of the country prisoners also have the right to live with dignity. The Indian Constitution provides for right to life which in turn provides for right to live a life with dignity regardless of the circumstances.

Right against hand cuffing:

Hand cuffing prima facie is inhuman and unreasonable and arbitrary. The courts have directed the Union to issue appropriate guidelines in this regard.

Right to bail :

Babu Singh vs state of UP, 1978 SC
The supreme court held that refusal to grant bail to an accused person without reasonable grounds would amount to deprivation of his personal liberty under Article 21.
Khadak Singh vs state of UP, 1962 SC
The Supreme Court decided that the term 'life' refers to more than just an animal existence. The prohibition against it in laws applies to all the limbs and faculties that are used to enjoy life. The law also forbids the destruction of any other part of the body through which the soul communicates with the body such as an arm or a leg or another organ.
In the landmark case of Sunil Batra vs Delhi administration,1978 SC
Supreme Court held that the treatment of human being which offended human dignity imposed unavoidable torture and reduce the man to the level of beast would certainly be arbitrary and could be questiond under the Article 21 and 14. For the first time in this case the safety of prisoners and the torture they face was acknowledged by the court.
Therefore putting bar fits for an unusually long period without you regard for the safety of prisoner and the security of the prisoner would certainly be not justified.

Right against inhuman treatment :

Kishore Singh vs State of Rajasthan, 1953 SC
The court held that the use of third degree methods by the police was violative of article 21. Imposing solitary confinement beyond the period prescribed by law or putting behind bar beyond the prescribed time in the jail is uncivilized and is against human dignity and thus violative of article 14, 19 and 21.
Justice Krishna Iyer observed human dignity is a clear value of our constitution not to be bartered away for mere apprehension entertained by Jail officials.

Other Rights :

  • Right against delayed execution
  • Right against custodial violence
  • Right against solitary confinement
  • Right to write a book
Challenges before the jail system: