Prisoners' visits to courts came down by nearly a third, from about 44.5 lakh in 2019 to 15.5 lakh in 2020. (DC)
HYDERABAD: PSI 2020 presents a grim picture of the state of prisons through the pandemic period. Their health got lesser attention during the Covid phase. With courts introducing video conferences to take court proceedings forward in this phase, access of prisoners to courts fell by 65 per cent and to hospitals by 24 per cent, as per the Prison Statistics India (PSI) 2020.
The latest official statistics on the state of India’s prisons and their inmates was published a month ago. It is periodically published by the National Crime Records Bureau, an entity of the Union Government. PSI 2020 presented data from January 2020 to December 2020.
Prisoners’ visits to courts came down by nearly a third, from about 44.5 lakh in 2019 to 15.5 lakh in 2020. Impacted too was inmates’ access to health services, with the number of visits made by prisoners for medical attendance declining from 4.77 lakh in 2019 to 3.63 lakh visits in 2020. Visits by medical personnel to prisons also reduced from 24,524 in 2019 to 20,871 in 2020, while visits by judicial officers nearly halved to 9,257 in 2020 from 16,178 in 2019.
Maja Daruwala, chief editor of the India Justice Report, said the status of essential capacities decides the efficacy of the pillars of the justice system to deliver results as per the standards they have set for themselves.
PSI 2020 presents a grim picture of the state of prisons through the pandemic period. "Despite the many efforts to decongest these institutions and minimise the risks of contagion inherent in these overcrowded places, their overall condition has not improved."
Overcrowding: About 9 lakh more arrests were made in 2020, and, as per absolute numbers in December 2020, the prison population grew by 1.5 per cent from 481,387 to 488,511 inmates.
The annual increase is particularly worrying -- given that 2020 was a Covid year when a slew of decongestion efforts were being implemented across the nation. However, the total number of people entering and leaving prisons in the course of the year fell from 19.02 lakhs in 2019 to 16.31 lakhs in 2020.
Much of this overcrowding is accounted for by the presence of undertrials. Their share has increased from 69 per cent in December 2019 to 76 per cent in December 2020; meaning, for every one convicted prisoner, there are three people in custody awaiting ‘investigation, inquiry or trial’.
The average number of prisons equipped with a video conferencing facility rose from 60 per cent in 2019 to 69 per cent in 2020. At least 13 states/UTs had 100 per cent coverage across their prisons. In contrast, six states/UTs had less than half of their prisons equipped with this facility.
Tamil Nadu, with 142 prisons, had only 10 per cent or 14 jails with a V-C facility. None of Lakshadweep’s four prisons had this facility available.