SC shocked at over 600 per cent overcrowding in jails

New Delhi: Prisoners “cannot be kept in jail like animals”, a shocked Supreme Court said after it was informed that many of the over 1,300 prisons across the country were overcrowded, even to the extent of more than 600 per cent.

“What’s the point in talking about prison reforms when we cannot keep them in jail. We should release them, if you cannot keep them properly,” the top court said, lambasting state governments and union territories (UTs) for “complete lack of commitment” to fix this “extremely unfortunate” situation.

A bench of Justices M B Lokur and Deepak Gupta also warned the Directors General of Police (Prisons) of all states and UTs of contempt notice for non-compliance of its earlier orders with regard to submitting a plan of action to deal with issue of overcrowding prisons.

“It is unfortunate that the prisons are overcrowded. Prisoners also have human rights and they cannot be kept in jails like animals,” it said.

The court said it was informed by amicus curiae that there were a large number of jails where “overcrowding is well above 150 per cent and in one case it is as high as 609 per cent.”

“This is extremely unfortunate and clearly suggests the complete lack of commitment of the State Governments and the Union Territories to the human rights of prisoners and also indicates the failure of the Under Trial Review Committees to take their responsibilities seriously,” it said.

While some jail inmates have got bail but cannot be released as they cannot furnish sureties, some others were imprisoned for petty offences under which they should have got bail long ago, the apex court said.

Voicing concern over the “extremely dismal” performance of the Under Trial Review Committees (UTRCs), the bench said this was quite apparent from the fact that “unrestricted overcrowding in jails continues and in some instances, it has escalated”.

The committee, set up in every district, deliberates and recommends the release of undertrial prisoners and convicts who have undergone their sentences or are entitled to be released from jail on bail or remission granted to them.

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