State of Indian prisons

Judicial delays are among the main reasons for the overcrowding in Indian prisons, where undertrials constitute more than 60 per cent of the prisoners.

Published : Dec 24, 2014 12:30 IST

The Puzhal Central Prison near Chennai.

The Puzhal Central Prison near Chennai.

INDIAN prisons are overcrowded and have a disproportionately large number of Muslims and Scheduled Caste and Schedule Tribe people, and there seems to be no solution in sight for any of the immediate problems.

The occupancy rate at the all India level at the end of 2012 was 112.2 per cent, which went up to 118.4 per cent at the end of 2013, according to Prison Statistics India, 2013. The worst overcrowding was reported in district jails (134.7 per cent), followed by central jails (121.2 per cent).

There is one silver lining though. The South Asian region has, in comparison, lower incarceration rate (per 100,000 of national population) than the rest of the world. According to, Seychelles accounts for the highest rate of 868 and the United States is second at 707. While Prison Statistics India puts the rate of incarceration in the country at 32, puts the number at 33. In the region, Maldives has the highest incarceration rate (320), followed by Myanmar (113), Sri Lanka (105), Afghanistan (83), Nepal (52), Bangladesh (42) and Pakistan (41). China has a rate of 124.


Undertrial prisoners are the main reason for overcrowded prisons. –It is a reflection of the unduly long process that an accused goes through before being acquitted or convicted. Apart from the delays at the level of the police, Indian courts are overloaded with cases, which will require more than the filling up of judicial vacancies to dispose of. As of end 2013, 4.4 million cases were pending in various High Courts. Subordinate courts had nearly five times that number of cases in pendency.

The percentage of undertrial and convicted prisoners in the total prisoners in various jails was reported as 67.6 and 31.5 respectively in the country during 2013. As many as 3,047 undertrials were detained in jails for five years or more. The highest number of such undertrial prisoners was reported from Uttar Pradesh (914), which accounted for 30 per cent; Bihar (464, 15.2 per cent); and Punjab (294, 9.6 per cent). A total of 9,842 undertrial prisoners were lodged beyond three years and up to five years at the end of the year 2013. There were 2,679 such undertrial prisoners in Uttar Pradesh followed by Bihar (1,243) and Punjab (1,023).

As many as 4,820 inmates of the 4,11,992 persons lodged in various jails in the country were reported as mentally ill , accounting for about 1.2 per cent.

A total of 2,353 foreigners (2,192 males and 161 females) were lodged in various jails in the country as convicts. Foreigners lodged in various jails of the country as undertrial prisoners numbered 4,353 (3,905 males and 448 females).

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