Prisoners and their Human Rights

Every person is entitled to have access to human rights irrespective of sex, caste, creed, skin colour, religion, ethnicity, language, status in the society etc., which should never be violated. They have a right to live with self-respect and dignity as human rights are a part of our fundamental rights. When we talk about prisoners per se, especially in India, they have been denied these inherent human rights. They have been subjected to illegal detention, torture, custodial rape, sexual harassment, molestation, forced labour, and many more. Many prisoners do not get access to legal aid, proper healthcare facilities and a speedy trial. They are denied many rights as compared to the ordinary people in the country. Also, many prisoners suffer unbearable physical and mental torture which leads to custodial death. Malnutrition among prisoners is a common issue as they are not provided with healthy and hygienic food. A person can be convicted or imprisoned but even then, they have some fundamental and human rights to survive and live a quality life.


Violation of Fundamental Rights


According to Article 14 of The Constitution of India,  the state cannot deny any person equality before the law or equal protection of laws within the territory of India.[1] Article 14 permits reasonable classification but prohibits class legislation. All the prisoners have a right to be equally treated in the society. Yes, many of their rights get restricted during the term of their imprisonment but that does not mean that they should be denied access to all the basic rights and necessities. It is true that the same laws are not applied on everyone and different classes with different needs are entitled to get a different treatment but not to an extent that such classification becomes arbitrary in nature and violates the fundamental rights of other classes. Also by not protecting the prisoners from various kinds of torture inflicted upon them and by denying them their rights just because they have a status of a prisoner, the state and the judiciary are violating their Article 14, as this kind of classification is arbitrary and is not based on some intelligible differentia. There is no nexus between the basis of such kind of classification and the object of which is sought to be achieved, that is to provide equality and equal protection to all the citizens of India. Right to equality gets violated if a certain community is not allowed to enjoy their rights but some other community is allowed to do the same.

According to Article 21 of The Constitution of India, no one shall be deprived of life and personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law.[2] The freedom to live doesn’t really imply sole enclosure of physical life, but it encompasses the right to live with human integrity. One of the core human rights is the right to life, and not even the government has the power to disregard it. Even when placed in captivity, a convict doesn’t quite stop to become a human being, rather, he appears to maintain all his fundamental rights. 


In the case of T.V. Vatheeswaran V. State of Tamil Nadu, the court held that Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution of India are applicable to both freemen and prisoners.[3] A tag of a prisoner cannot prohibit a person or persons to exercise their fundamental rights. It was stated by the Supreme court in the case of State of Maharashtra V. Prabhakar Pandurang Sanzgur, that conditions of detention cannot be extended to deprivation of fundamental rights.[4] They are free to enjoy their rights except for the ones that have been curtailed by law.



Many prisoners in India who are under trial are deprived of the right to get a speedy trial which in turn leads to prolonged justice to an innocent person. It is rightly said that justice delayed is justice denied. The supreme court in the case of AR Antulay v. RS Nayak laid down certain guidelines for the quick disposal of cases and held that charges of conviction would be removed if an accused person has been denied this particular right.[5] Right to speedy trial comes within the purview of Article 21, hence if this right is violated, a breach of fundamental right takes place.



In the case of Sukhdas v. Union Territory of Andhra Pradesh, the supreme court held that the right to get free legal aid comes within the purview of fundamental rights.[6] Hence, it shall not be violated as everyone deserves to get legal assistance in the court of law.



In the case of Dharmbir v. State of U.P, the court held that the state government must allow family members to visit the prisoner under guarded conditions.[7] A person has a right to meet or contact his or her family or friends while in custody.



The supreme court in the case of Selvi v. State of Karnataka declared all these tests to be unconstitutional and violative of human rights.[8] Hence, a convict cannot be forced to perform these tests against his will as this would be a breach of his fundamental rights.



A prisoner has a right to get healthcare facilities as it is a basic need of human beings which no authority can take away from them. Right to health comes within the purview of Article 21 and a breach of such right would result in a violation of the prisoner’s fundamental rights. In the case of Paschim Bengal Khet Mazdoor V. State of West Bengal, it was held that the State has a duty to provide medical assistance to an injured person.[9]



The prison authorities do not have the right to indulge in physical and mental torture with the prisoners. All the prisoners have a right to life which cannot be taken away. In the case of Sheela Barse v. State of Maharashtra, it was held that it is the duty of the state to provide legal assistance and protect the victims of such abuse from such ill-treatment in the prison.[10] If this right is taken away, it would amount to a violation of Article 21 under the Fundamental rights.



Hence, any form of torture, cruelty, degrading treatment comes within the purview of fundamental rights. Along with all these rights and protection, there are several more rights that get violated on a daily basis by authorities be it the state, judiciary, or prison authorities. In such situations, it is the duty of the concerned authorities to make sure that such rights do not get violated, otherwise these acts would contradict the very essence of the Constitution of India.


The Prisons Act, 1894


This Act was the first Act established with guidelines regarding the functioning and regulation of prisons in India. This Act gives information regarding prisoners’ living conditions and sanitation facilities. Regulations about the emotional and physical condition of inmates. Review of inmates by a skilled healthcare professional. Segregation of inmates who are men, women, criminal, civil, convicted and under trial. Requirements for the care of inmates on trial, civil inmates, probation and temporary discharge. This statute seems to have an imperial perspective that diffuses on moral grounds with the modern philosophy of prisoner rehabilitation for reshaping their mind and spirit into becoming sensible adults instead of just promoting coercive and restrictive initiatives to domesticate them in prisons. However, this Act was later amended in 2016 and is now known as the Prisons (Amendment) Bill, 2016.


International Human Rights


The United Nations had laid down certain guidelines and various conventions with respect to the rights and treatment of the prisoners. According to Article 7 of the International Covenant On Civil And Political Rights (ICCPR), a person cannot be subjected or punished with humiliating, cruel and inhuman treatment.[11] As per Article 10 of ICCPR, a person who has lost his or her freedom has to be treated with respect and humanity.[12] According to Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), every person is born free and equal with respect to dignity and rights.[13] Article 3 of UDHR states that everyone has a right to life, personal security and freedom.[14] With reference to the Standard Minimum Rules For The Treatment of Prisoners, discrimination is prohibited on the basis of religion, race, property, place of birth, sex, colour or any other status among the prisoners.[15] Under Article 2 of the Convention against Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, a state party has to take effective judicial, legislative, administrative or other measures to prevent torture in any territory within its jurisdiction.[16] Therefore, as India is a party to most of these conventions, it is the duty of the country to abide by these rules for the betterment and quality for prisoners.


Suggestions and Conclusion


A jail term merely constitutes a violation of the universal right to freedom. It would not mean that all individual rights are constrained, except for those that are inherently limited due to the circumstance that they are in detention.  Prison modifications are important to guarantee that this concept is upheld, that human rights are secured and that their opportunities for societal resettlement, in accordance with applicable global criteria and requirements, are improved. Guilty verdict for even an offence doesn’t somehow degrade an individual to something like a non-person whose freedoms are vulnerable to the authorities’ discretion. It is also the duty of the prison officials to guarantee that the diagnosis and support of inmates are subject to the laws with regard to human rights of its citizens and also that the time of detention is being used to train inmates for living outside of the jails after freedom. Yet existing laws and regulations pertaining to prison administration are also obsolete and therefore need to be reformed. To alleviate them from their harsh prison environment, the captives should have to be visited routinely and will need to be discussed about the issues that arise regarding them. Convicts could also be entrusted with education, treatment and psychological therapy. The government should also build more prisons to solve the issue of overcrowding due to which it becomes difficult for all the prisoners to get access to various facilities like food, water etc. Also, one way for speedy disposal of cases could be through the hiring of more judges which will lessen the burden of the courts.





[1] The Constitution of India, art 14.

[2] The Constitution of India, art 21.

[3] AIR 1983 SC 361.

[4] AIR 1966 SC 424.

[5] AIR 1984 SC 1630.

[6] AIR 1986 SC 991.

[7] (1979) 3 SCC 645.

[8] (2010) 7 SCC 263.

[9] AIR 1996 SC 2426.

[10] JT 1988 (3) 15.

[11] The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, art 7.

[12] The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, art. 10.

[13] The International Covenant On Civil And Political Rights, art 1.

[14] The International Covenant On Civil And Political Rights, art 3.

[15] Standard Minimum Rules for Treatment of Prisoners, Rule 6(1).

[16] The Convention against Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or    punishment, art 2.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *