The state of Indian prisons -Mrinal Sharma
The National Crime Records Bureau must be more prompt and open in releasing data
Indian prisons make news when there is a jail break, a prison riot or when the lawyers of high-profile businessmen or economic evaders fight against their extradition to India. And in the midst of the election process this year, the release of the data-driven report, the Prison Statistics India 2016, published by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) in April went largely unnoticed.
This edition of the report is different from its earlier versions on account of its omission of certain key demographic data. Despite these gaps, the report raises a number of red flags signalling the rot in India’s prison system. But before we go forward, a simple question needs to be asked. Who are our prisoners?
The report tells us that at the end of 2016, there were 4,33,033 people in prison; of them 68% were undertrials, or people who have yet to be found guilty of the crimes they are accused of. India’s under-trial population remains among the highest in the world and more than half of all undertrials were detained for less than six months in 2016. This suggests that the high proportion of undertrials in the overall prison population may be the result of unnecessary arrests and ineffective legal aid during remand hearings.
No demographic details
The most significant shortcoming of the report lies in the NCRB’s failure to include demographic details of religion and the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe status of prisoners, which are crucial to understanding India’s prison population. This information was consistently published for the last 20 years and instrumental in revealing the problematic overrepresentation of Muslims, Dalits and Adivasis among under-trials in prisons.
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