The Author of this blog is Animesh Panda, student of 4th year, BA LLB (H), Gujarat National Law University, Gandhinagar, Gujrat 


The prison system in India is still regulated by the archaic Prison Act of 1894. The correctional system of any country reflects the attitude of public towards criminals which is deeply rooted in history and tradition. From the earliest time India had a very well defined prison system. Kautilya’s Arthashastra recommended that separate accommodation for men and women should be made and prisons should be constructed by the road side so that monotony of prison life is reduced to a considerable extent. In Mughal period the punishments like death sentence, mutilation, whipping, flogging and branding etc. were given which were based on the deterrent principle also the prisoners were subject to inhuman treatment with draconic prisons. The British tried to improve the conditions of Indian prisons and prisoners. In 1836, a committee named Prison Enquiry Committee was appointed by the Government to give a report on the existing conditions in jails in the country. The Prison Act of 1894 was introduced by the British following the recommendations of the committee it classified prisoners and abolished the sentence of whipping and introduced proper food, clothing and appropriate medical treatment for the prisoners. The British had a huge impact on the Indian society as they introduced the prison act established a proper system which is still followed in India but now it has become archaic and needs to be reformed to make the penal system for efficient and to try alternatives to imprisonment.

Criminological Analysis of Prison Act, 1894

The Prison Act 1894 deals more with the smooth functioning of prison rather than reformation and rehabilitation of prisoners. This act has colonial approach which deflects with the contemporary ideology of reformation of prisoners on humanitarian grounds in order to change their heart and mind to become responsible citizens rather than to advocate punitive and disciplinary measures of taming them in prisoners like animals in zoo.[1] The prisoners should not be just left on their own in prison to suffer like dead creatures but should be treated with respect of a human being.

The rightful treatment to the prisons can be achieved by ensuring them access to free legal aid services, maternity help in jail to female prisoners so that they can carry the child safely, therapy sessions for prisoners in order to ensure that they don’t break psychologically inside the prison cells, monetary assistance to indigent prisoners and their families to fight for their survival inside the jail. The government changed the name of prisons to correctional homes but it was just a nomenclature change not a structural change; the goal of the Draft National Policy on Prison Reforms and Correctional Administration in 2007 stated “prisons in the country shall endeavour to reform and re-assimilate offenders in the social milieu by giving them appropriate correctional treatment”.[2] Despite this statement the government has not implemented any structural changes still there is no after care and post release follow up of released prisoners and no policy for the reintegration of prisoners.

The role of prisons is to reform prisoners but the current prisons break their inner self so blatantly that they can never fit into their normal self in outside world ever after. The reformation is not seen in prisoners when they get released out of jail cells as they become absolute misfits in the society after suffering from inhuman tortures and adding to their misery the social stigma they have to live with as they are never accepted neither by society nor by their own families. It is hard to picture their plight in light of the incompetent infrastructure present in prisons and inhuman treatment they have to suffer at the hands of prison authorities. Prison teaches inmates to become criminals, so a system that locks up non-violent offenders will only lead to more crime, not less.[3]

The Indian prison system also suffers from the problem of overcrowding; the rapid growth of the prison population is a cause of concern. In prisons across India, there are 4,50,696 prisoners against the capacity of 3,91,574 as of 2017. The prisons are overcrowded at 15.1% against the authorized capacity. The percentage of under trial prisoners in 2017 was 68.5% while in year 2000 it was 71.2%. Even though the percentage of under trial prisoners has decreased, Indian prisons are still facing overcrowding, due to a high percentage of under trials in the prison population.[4]

On the contrary, in a welfare state like Sweden, prisons are being shut down because of dwindling prison population after an emphasis on non-institutional alternatives to punishment including conditional sentences, probation for first-time offenders and the more extensive use of fines. When Portugal was facing the problem of overcrowding the government decriminalised drugs and shifted their focus from convicting drug addicts to putting them in rehab centres which resulted in a huge decrease in prison population and of drug addiction and overdose deaths. Decriminalisation of drugs allowed the drug addicts to reform be part of the society again.

There is clear deficiency of ideas in justice administration in India. While public officials and social workers are agreed upon the need to reduce overcrowding, there is barely any endeavour onto reduce overcrowding. Obviously there is fear of backlash against the move to decriminalize certain offences.[5]

Reformation of prisoners in now days becomes an integral and necessary part of criminal justice administration as said by Martin Luther King, “The arc of the moral universe must bend towards a more empathetic version of justice rather than a retributive one.” The Prison act should be reformed such that there is nexus between prison reform and the reformatory theory of punishment. The era of hands-off doctrine in prison administration is over and now it is always a matter of judicial scrutiny. There is a need to cure the menace of corruption from the prisons and introduce a more reformative approach towards prison system.


A prisoner shall be sent to prison for the punishment and not as a punishment to deprive his personal liberty and privacy. The punitive punishment system should not reach the pinnacle level of destructiveness for human beings from which they can never be reformed. It is also essential to ameliorate environment of the prisons and to value humanitarian needs of prisoners so as to ensure that prisons do not create hardened criminals .It is essential to rehabilitate and socialize prisoners in view to help the prisoners to become responsible and potential citizen of this country. The time has come to reform the colonial Indian prison system and amend the centurion old Prison Act, 1894 as its obsolete and not in tune with modern day and age where the reformation is required not only of prisons but also the prisoners who shall be equipped with basic fundamental rights which this nation grants to its every citizen.

[1]Shagun Bahl, “Prison Laws in India – The forgotten Law”, Ipleaders, August 24, 2017, available at <> ( Last visited on Jan. 16, 2021)

[2] Bureau of Police Research and Development, “National Policy on Prison Reforms and Correctional Administration” (2007)

[3] Russonello. B. & Stewart, Optimism, Pessimism, and Jailhouse Redemption: American Attitudes on Crime, Punishment, and Over-incarceration: Findings from a national survey conducted for the ACLU, (Washington, DC: Belden Russonello & Stewart Research and Communications, 2001).

[4] National Crime Records Bureau, “Prison Statistics India (2017).

[5] Raghavan R.K, “Ripe for prison reform” The Hindu, Oct. 22, 2018.