This Article is written by Anchal Kushwah, student of ISBR Law College.


In India, it has been calculated that nearly 4,78,600 prisoners are behind the bars till the year 2019. Now this number itself is a big number to realize the fact that these many people can’t be denied their basic human rights even if they have committed any crime. They still have so many basic human rights for example right to life, the right to be free from inhuman and degrading treatment, the right to a fair trial, the right to know the reason for their arrest, the right to legal representation, and so on.

Now, the question here is if a person is considered a criminal why are we still trying to protect him under certain basic rights? The answer for this is, our Constitution has laid down two concepts one of which is Equality before the law and the other one is Equal protection of the law. Under the concept of equality before the law, it guarantees equality to all the citizens of the Country and the right to be free from inhumanity and degradation, without any distinction, regardless of the person’s conduct of behavior. This article is an attempt to highlight some of the deplorable cases in which prisoners have been found in a very derisory situation which was not only against humanity but also was legally unacceptable and in order to make them aware of their rights the following article will also come forth with some basic human rights of prisoners.


The Prison Act came into force in India in the year 1894 on the basis of which the present jail management and administration work even today. But that is not the only enactment or law which talks about prisons and their prisoners. In fact, there were so many recommendations and amendments on the parts of the administration by so many luminaries, and eminent committees in order to make it better and serve in a much better way to the prisoners. From The Moulla Committee to The Krishnan Iyer Committee, there have been so many efforts on the part of the government in order to improve the Prison Act as well as the prisoner’s situation.

But now the question here is did it actually work out even after so many new recommendations and efforts made by the government?

One of the small civil liberties groups in India, the people’s union Democratic Rights (PUDR) published in New Delhi reported a brief report of an estimation of the number of deaths occurring in police stations due to the wild torture and the inhuman behaviour of the policemen inside the bars. During the years of 1980-1989, 48 deaths were reported inside the jails out of which majority of them were of 30 years approximately and hardly anyone of them died due to any natural death. And as per the latest reports released by the rights body, it has been reported that nearly 1,731 people have died in custody in the year 2019. Out of which most of them were from communal vulnerabilities, Dalits, and Muslims. And among these people, 1,606 people died in judicial custody while 125 died in police custody.

  • Disappearance – Apart from the drawback in judicial and police custody there is one more important aspect that we need to know is the matter of disappearance from the prisons. In the countries like Sri Lanka and El Salvador, some of the individuals are the victims are individuals who died under torture and whose bodies were disposed to conceal the matter and prevent it from any type of publication. In January 1990, Andhra Pradesh Government submitted a report to the state govt. In which it has been reported that out of 111 deaths in lock-ups from 1984-89 and when the police authorities were asked to submit the reports of their deaths, the civil liberties group enumerated 21 disappearances from the jail during the same time- period. And adding to this there were some victims who were never found as in few cases; in a few cases, as in one in which the body had been run over by a train and another that had been burned, and effort had apparently been made to obscure the causes of death.


A prisoner or inmate is a person who is confined or restrained without asking for his/her consent. Prisoners’ rights talk about those rights which can be entitled by the inmate behind the bars. Although prisoners do not have all the constitutional rights to exercise, that does not mean they do not have any right at all. Some of the human rights of a prisoner have been listed below along with some case studies in which Supreme Court and High Court have emphasized the reforms of a prisoner.

  • The basic human rights – the basic rights of a prisoner include all the basic needs and requirements like food, water, the right to have a legal representation, protection from torture, violence, racial discrimination, and harassment.
  • International Human Rights Law – International Human rights law prevents the inmates from racial harassment, from enforced disappearance, from torture. Adding to this, the same law structure provides protection to certain groups of people also; like women, children, indigenous people, people with disability, and migrant workers too. And also there are certain treaties under which in the cause of any dispute people can even complain against the authorities.
  • Indian Constitution – Under Article 14, it is contemplated that it should be treated alike. This article also provides a basis for various prison authorities in order to let the prisoner exercise their fundamental rights. These rights include; Right to freedom of movement, freedom of residence and settlement, freedom of profession.

Moreover, the Constitution provides so many other rights too which not directly but indirectly be called prisoner’s rights. They ate Article 21, Article 14, Article 19, Article 20-21, and Article 22(4-7).

  • Prison Act, 1894– This Act was one of the soul fine laws or the act which came in India for the prison regulation in India. And it guarantees certain rights which are mentioned below;
  1. A good sanitation accommodation and sanitary atmospheres,
  2. Provision related to the physical and mental health of the prisoners,
  3. Separate prison for males, women, civil and criminal wrong prisoners,
  4. Provision for the treatment of prisoners if in case of any physical or mental issue,
  5. Examination of prisoners by qualified medical practitioners and so on.

Supreme Court and High Court cases

  1. D.B.M. Patnaik v. state of Andhra Pradesh – In the following case the Supreme court asserted that the mere detention of an individual does not mean that he/she will be deprived of all of his/her fundamental rights enshrined under our Constitution.
  2. A.HiralalMallick V. State of Bihar – In this case, the Supreme Court emphasized the reformative form of punishment and the reformation of a prisoner.


The deplorable situation of the people behind the bars is rapidly increasing day by day and years by years. But in order to make it an actual problem of our nation the very initial step is to recognize this problem and to make the prisoners feel that they are also a human being and they have their certain fundamentals rights too which they can entitle even if they are behind the bars. And the next initiative should be taken by the government to decide to end up the unnecessary torture, mistreatment, and misbehavior or at least to reduce the mistreatment which they actually don’t deserve i.e. sexual harassment, racial harassment, ill-treatment on the basis of religion, race, cast, etc.