Crowding in prisons

Bursting at the seams

Print edition : January 08, 2016
The prison establishment is characterised by overcrowding, uneven utilisation of annual budgets by States, and a shortage of prison staff at various levels.

Prison data for the year ended 2014 from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) show that the overall occupancy rate in jails continues to remain high, above 100. The occupancy rate, which is defined as the number of inmates staying in jails against the authorised capacity for 100 inmates, was at 117.4 and lower than the previous year’s 118.4, indicating that the overcrowding has eased slightly. The occupancy rate was much higher at 129.2 in 2008 but had reduced to 112.1 in 2011 before climbing again. The rate exceeded 100 only in central jails (121.1) and district jails (132.7) for the year under review.

The total budget for prison expenses for all States remained underutilised by about 11 per cent during for the 2014-15 fiscal year, with the expenditure at Rs.3,600.80 crore compared with the budgeted amount of Rs.4,036.87 crore. The worst performer was Odisha, which used only 54.95 per cent of its allocated budget, followed by Goa (60.98), Telangana (66.25), and Bihar (69.86). The north-eastern States were the best performers, making full or near-optimum use of their funds. The southern States of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka also fared well. Himachal Pradesh alone overshot its annual budget, spending Rs.27.32 crore against the budgeted Rs.26.30 crore.

The NCRB data for 2014 showed that a total of 1,702 prisoners died in jails. Of them, 195 died of unnatural causes, which include suicide, murder by inmates, assault by outside elements, firing, negligence/excess by jail personnel and others. Odisha recorded the highest incidence of unnatural deaths at 44, followed by West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Punjab, Rajasthan and Haryana, each recording incidence in double digits.

The most overcrowded State was Chhattisgarh, with an extremely high rate of 258.9, followed by Uttar Pradesh (167.1), Punjab (139.2), and Madhya Pradesh (133.7). Tamil Nadu had the lowest occupancy rate among key States (71.5). Jammu and Kashmir, Odisha, Bihar, and Telangana were the key States that recorded rates below 90.

Uttar Pradesh continued to hold the top spot for the number of undertrials, followed by Bihar, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, and Punjab. Most key States recorded a rise in the number of undertrials, with the exception of Punjab, West Bengal and Jharkhand.

A total of 4,18,536 inmates were in jail during the year, with undertrials accounting for a whopping 67.6 per cent and convicts only 31.4 per cent.