Prisoners Rights Initiative
“The poor, illiterate and weaker sections in our society in our country suffer day in and day out in their struggle for survival and look to those who have promised them equality- social, political and economic…a very large number of under–trial prisoners suffer prolonged incarceration even in petty criminal matters merely for the reason that they are not in a position, even in bailable offences, to furnish bail bonds and get released on bail.”- Ex-Chief Justice of India Adarsh Sein Anand, November 1999
According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), almost 68% of all inmates in the 1,400 jails in the country are undertrials. Over 40% of all undertrials remain in jail for more than six months before being released on bail and over 65% are held in custody for more than 3 months.
The prison system is overpopulated by 250% and cells of 8×10 feet frequently house 21 people, contrary to the UN specification of approximately 6×12 feet per person. The major problems faced by the prison inmates include not being granted bail, long detention of those awaiting trial, inadequate opportunities for prisoners to communicate with counsel, administrators, and family, visiting rights being curbed, overcrowding, poor sanitary conditions, and inadequate food and clothing. Because of such inhuman conditions, HIV, tuberculosis, and other vector borne diseases and infections are rife, while medical treatment is deficient, especially in relation to poor inmates.
A total of 1,584 deaths in jails were reported during the year 2015. Incidents of prison abuse and torture are very common and often go unreported.
HRLN, under the Prisoners Rights Initiative, works for the improvement of conditions of the prisoners, facilitates their release on bail, safeguards access to a fair and speedy trial, and files petitions in the Courts to ensure that the prisoners’ human rights are safeguarded.
Slideshow - PIL's and Cases
20/04/2013National Consultation on Prison Legal Aid
What HRLN Does
The Prisoners Rights Initiative, in confluence with advocates and social activists working all across India, works for the release of prisoners, especially indigent ones, who are or have been undergoing trials and languishing in prisons for a long period of time. For this purpose, it files bail applications and surety bonds, and in cases where indigent prisoners are unable to pay for the same, it provides monetary assistance in collaboration with other NGO initiatives.
Since this initiative deals with problems faced by prisoners, HRLN advocates regularly visit jails and collect case details from the prisoners. Apart from providing assistance to prisoners to ensure their safe and timely releases, the initiative’s constant endeavor is to safeguard the their rights to a fair and speedy trial. So far, in Delhi prison itself, over 500 persons have been provided with legal advice/representation and over 200 indigent prisoners and 150 juveniles have been released on bail. Once the prisoners have been released, the initiative aims at providing facilities so that they are able to get in touch with their family; it counsels them and their families and help the prisoners reach their homes safely by providing monetary assistance.
HRLN advocates not only fight for indigent prisoners, but also women prisoners, prisoners with disabilities, and juveniles. HRLN held a National Consultation Conference whereby advocates and social activists working with NGOs all across the country came together to discuss the main issues and a plan of action to combat problems faced by prisoners. The conference aimed to establish an approach so legal teams could be instituted to make frequent visits to police station lock ups and prisons to provide legal advice and representation.
- 70% prisoners are undertrials, and are mostly indigent.
- Even though bail is granted, prisoners are not released, as they are unable to pay the surety amount.
- High amount of surety ordered by courts which indigent prisoners can’t pay.
- Rejection of personal bond applications, as indigent prisoners don’t have proper addresses/houses.
- Lack of insufficient provision of medical aid to prisoners.
- Callous and insensitive attitude of jail authorities.
- Lack of proper legal aid services.
- Corruption and other malpractices.
HRLN, through its state units, has been able to release thousands of indigent prisoners, and has helped them with free legal aid services. Its lawyers have been working in Chhattisgarh, Delhi, West Bengal, Maharashtra, Manipur, Assam, Odisha, and Jammu & Kashmir, where they fight for the basic rights of prisoners. So far, through HRLN intervention in Tihar prison, Delhi, about 5,000 persons have been provided with legal advice/representation and more than 2,000 indigent prisoners and juveniles have been released on bail. Many juveniles that have been languishing in adult jails have been released or transferred to Juvenile Homes.
HRLN’s basic aim, right from the start, has been to gradually achieve systemic change and reform so legal aid for undertrials is institutionalized from the point of arrest, and also to raise awareness of prison conditions and the problems faced by undertrials. Towards this end, it works with the State Legal Aid Service Authorities (SLSAs) and the National Legal Aid Service Authorities (NALSA). For example, in Delhi, HRLN lawyers have been enrolled with the Delhi State Legal Service Authority (DSLSA) and visit prisons and some observations homes for women.
The initiative has filed various PILs in Maharashtra, West Bengal, UP, Bihar and Delhi, among others, where it managed to procure the successful release of prisoners, and had inquiries ordered by Courts to look into cases of custodial deaths. It has also approached the Supreme Court on issues of mass release of prisoners, improvement of legal services, and commutation of death penalty.
HRLN has held some regional workshops for training lawyers and three National Consultations for advocates and social activists.
The first National Consultation on prisons was held in 2010, with various organizations and groups working on prisons coming together to discuss various issues plaguing prisons. Following that, HRLN formed a network of lawyers in different states. The 2nd National Consultation was held in 2013 in Delhi, while the 3rd National Consultation on Prisoners’ Rights, Legal Aid and Prison Reform was held in collaboration with Tata Institute for Social Sciences (TISS), Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), International Bridges to Justice India (IBJINDIA) and Multiple Action Research Group (MARG). It was attended by 120 participants including lawyers, activists, NGOs, academicians, and government officials from across the country. The participants discussed and deliberated upon the current legal aid practices in prisons, highlighting the lacunae in legal aid in various states, especially in conflict zones. The issues of juveniles, women inmates, and the harassment faced by prisoners from minority communities were discussed at length. The various options of filing PILs, RTIs, and setting up of Legal Aid Clinics as possible solutions were also discussed. At the end of the two days, a Plan of Action was adopted, and it was decided that to address the various concerns, a National Forum would be created where the NGOs could come together on a common platform to address issues collectively to reform the Indian prison system.
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Slideshow - Read.