The article 'A Comprehensive Study about the Rights of Prisoners' intends to examine the judicial attitudes towards the Indian Prison system and analyze prisoners' rights under Indian law.

The article 'A Comprehensive Study about the Rights of Prisoners' intends to examine the judicial attitudes towards our Indian Prison system and analyze prisoners' rights under Indian law.

Every modern country's penal system includes imprisonment, and over many decades, its use has been expanding quickly. According to the World Prison Brief database on prisoners, there are approximately 10.36 million prisoners in the world today. According to the National Crime Records Bureau Ministry of Home Affairs, 1387 operational jails in India have the capacity to house 356,561 prisoners. Still, there are currently 418,536 inmates in jails throughout the country, with 2.8 lakhs of them undergoing trials, which is equal to the population of Barbados.


The law governing prisoners' rights has been changing throughout time. Unfortunately, a nation like India lacks defined legislation on prisoners' rights. Additionally, no comprehensive legislation addresses prisoners' rights and governs their behaviour while imprisoned. However, the country's judicial system has repeatedly upheld the prisoners' fundamental rights while giving them the necessary respect they deserve. In the absence of comprehensive law, they have been able to establish precedents and guiding principles that not only serve as a guide but also bind all Indian Courts in protecting the numerous rights of inmates.

Historical Background of Prison and Prisoners

From the pre-independence era to a few decades post-independence, Indian Courts had traditionally refrained from getting involved in the administration of jail systems. Prisons and inmates were perceived as being cut off from society, devoid of rights, and a continuation of minority persecution in Indian society.

The debate over jail reform or the rights of inmates was not fully accepted in India earlier. Prisons are supposed to serve as institutions for providing care and reformation in contemporary democracy. Contrarily, the reality is different because there aren't enough basic necessities like food, medical care, and sanitation in prisons. The only things that society understands about prisons are the fear of crime control and the need to prevent systemic disruption. However, a number of precedents in recent years have compelled the matter of prisoners' rights before the Courts.

With the passage of time, it was established that prisoners have a right to at least minimal due process protection, unsatisfactory conditions might constitute cruel and unusual punishment, and they have the right to be held in integrated facilities and to practice their religions as they see fit.

Important Case Laws

One may argue that whenever the legislative and executive branches have erred, the country's judiciary has been instrumental in defending the rights of prisoners. A few judgements on prisoners’ rights substantiating the same are as follows:

1) In State of Maharashtra v. Prabhakar Pandurang Sanzgir, 1966 AIR 424, the Supreme Court ruled that a person's basic rights cannot be violated just because they are in custody and that such restrictions cannot be made so severe as to violate the detained person's fundamental rights. The Court further declared that every prisoner preserves all of these liberties, with the exception of those that must be forfeited due to incarceration.

2) According to the Court's ruling in the State of Andhra Pradesh v. Challa Ramakrishna Reddy, (2000), a prisoner is entitled to all fundamental rights unless the constitution restricts those rights.

3) The Court determined in Sunil Batra v. Delhi Administration, (1978) 4 SCC 409, that a person's legal detention does not bar the exercise of Habeas Corpus to defend his other inalienable rights.

4) The Court ruled in Prem Shankar Shukla v. Delhi Administration, 1980 AIR 1535, that no individual may be routinely handcuffed or restrained for the purpose of a custodian's escort.

5) In R.D. Upadhyay v. State of A.P. and Ors., Writ Petition (Civil) 559 of 1994, it was held that the right to fair treatment and the right to a legal remedy are prerequisites for the administration of prison justice.

6) In Hussainara Khatun v. State of Bihar, 1979 AIR 1369, the Court took a proactive and constructive approach towards prison rehabilitation. In addition to other matters, the Court emphasised the need to improve jail conditions in India.

Constitutional and Other Statutory Provisions Relating to the Rights of Prisoners in India

It is important to note that just because a person has been convicted of a crime does not mean that he or she is not eligible to be granted basic human rights. Those rights are granted by the very virtue of us being human. Thus, they cannot be taken away from any of the prisoners as well. Let us study the various provisions stemming from different statutes that provide rights to prisoners in India:

Let us start with the Constitution of India, which has the following rights for prisoners:

1. Article 20: Protection from a conviction for offences

This provision protects any person from being convicted for an offence not punishable when it was committed. It also prohibits self-incrimination and double jeopardy, which are the basic rights that every prisoner must have.

2. Article 21: Protection of Life and Personal Liberty

The wide scope of this article does not exclude the prisoners as well, and thus it is important to guarantee the right to life and personal liberty to prisoners as well. This protects any unlikely situation to occur in prison among various prisoners or by the prison authorities.

3. Article 22: Protection against arrest and detention in certain cases

The applicable portion of this provision to our discussion is the procedure to be followed immediately after arrest, which includes presenting the arrested person before the magistrate within 24 hours of arrest, informing him or her of the reason why they were arrested, their right to be protected by respective legal practitioners. This provision also elaborately explains the procedure and limitations of preventive detention, where the ultimate power lies in the hands of the Parliament.

Right of Prisoners under Indian Penal Code:

1. Section 220- Commitment for trial or confinement by a person having author­ity who knows that he is acting contrary to law

As per this provision, it is illegal for any authorised person for arrests, to arrest or confine any person maliciously without any valid proof of reasons as per the law. In case of such illegal confinement, the said person is then sentenced to a jail term of up to seven years or fine or both.

Rights of Prisoners under the Code of Criminal Procedure:

1. Section 50- Right to Bail

If an arrest is by police officers and without any warrant, then they are to inform the arrested person of the reasons for his arrest. If the offence for which such arrest has taken place is non-bailable then they have to inform him that he can be released on bail after arranging for sureties on his behalf.

2. Section 56- Right to be taken to Magistrate/ Officer in charge

Whenever an arrest is made without a warrant then the said police officer has to take the arrested person before a Magistrate as soon as possible who has jurisdiction, or else has to take him to the officer in charge of police.

3. Section 410- Right to have Legal Practitioner

As per this section, every arrested person has the ultimate right to be protected and defended by a legal practitioner. This legal practitioner can accompany him even during the interrogation, but not throughout the whole of it.

4. Section 54- Right to Examination by Medical Practitioner

This medical examination is made by the order of the Magistrate and upon request made by the arrested person. He or she makes such a request to prove that they are not involved or guilty of the crime for which they have been arrested. However, the Court can deny such a request if it is felt that it has been made only for the purpose of causing the delay. It is done by duly registered medical practitioners.

5. Chapter XXIX- Right to Appeal

This whole chapter of the CrPC discusses the procedure by which the prisoners can take forward their appeals. It is important that justice is served to them and thus they must be given all possible ways to prove their innocence. However, this is applicable only in some cases as mentioned in detail in the chapter.

6. Section 55 A - Right to Humane Treatment

This section puts the onus on the person taking care of the arrested person, for ensuring that the said person is provided with all necessities as are required for maintaining his health and safety on basic grounds.

Rights of Prisoners under Prisons Act, 1984

1. Section 4- Accommodation of Prisoners

Prisoners are to give due accommodation by the State governments, and such accommodations must also be duly regulated in order to update their maintenance after due intervals of time.

2. Section 27- Separation of Prisoners

This separation stands for important yet basic separation that must be made on the basis of gender, age and categories such as convicted and un-convicted prisoners.

3. Section 34- Employment of Prisoners

After taking due permission from the Superintendent, the civil prisoners are then allowed to carry on any trade or profession or work as per their choice. For this, they are also paid a minimum which is handed over to them when they are released.

4. Section 37- Sick Prisoners

As per this section, it is important to take proper care of prisoners who are sick as this is one of the basic rights that they possess. A similar situation was encountered during COVID where some of the prisoners were released on parole and others were given proper medical treatment.


Prisoners retain their humanity even after being locked up. In order to prevent inmates from becoming victims themselves, the Supreme Court of India and numerous other Courts have reaffirmed this position in numerous cases and are given a suitable rehabilitation environment to aid in their improvement and development as better human beings. The Central and State Governments have a responsibility to not only provide the prisoners with acceptable living conditions but also to inform them of their rights so that they are not violated by the powerful inside the prison.

In light of the negative circumstances, strict legislation must be created for their well-being, and judge-made laws must offer them more protection. Prison overcrowding and improved healthcare systems can so improve circumstances inside, and national legislation may help this process move forward.


[1] Paridhi Verma, Rights of Prisoners under Indian Law, Available Here

[2] Swapnil Raj Kaushik, Prisoner’s rights in India and International scenario: A demanding change and perspective, Available Here

[3] Pamini Kasera, Rights of Women Prisoners in India, Available Here

[4] Mahelaka Abrar, Rights of prisoners and major judgments on it, Available Here

[5] Anisha Bhandari, Rights of Prisoners and its Development in India, Available Here

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Snehil Sharma

Snehil Sharma

Snehil Sharma is an advocate with an LL.M specializing in Business Law. He is a legal research aficionado and is actively indulged in legal content creation. His forte is researching on contemporary legal issues.

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