Court, Government of India, India, Judiciary, Prison, Stories

Data indicates the relation between High Pendency in courts & Overcrowding in Prisons


Overcrowding in prisons is a problem for many reasons. Far from acting as a rehabilitation period, overcrowding leads to denial of basic human rights. Data from the various reports of NCRB indicates that most states with high occupancy ratio in prisons also reported huge pendency of cases waiting for disposal in courts, highlighting the link between the two. 

The responsibility of collating data on prison and crime related statistics, and its analysis is bestowed up on the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) under the Union Home Ministry. Recently, the prison statistics were released for 2019 which revealed that in 2019, the prisons in India recorded the highest overcrowding in the last ten years. In an earlier story by Factly, it was also observed that prisons in 19 states recorded overcrowding in 2019 and close to 70% of the prison inmates were undertrials. 

The states of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Meghalaya, and Delhi have consistently reported overcrowding since 2010. Meanwhile, states such as Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Maharashtra, Uttarakhand, and Kerala have also recorded overcrowding throughout the last five years. Only a few states including Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, and Telangana had occupancy below 100% throughout the last ten years. In this story, we look at the case pendency numbers and conviction data of bigger states with low occupancy in prisons and explore the reasons for low occupancy. 

Six states together account for half the national capacity of prisons

In terms of capacity of prisons, six states- Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab, and Tamil Nadu, together accounted for 50% of the national capacity of prisons and close to 55% of the prison inmates in the country were lodged in the prisons of these 6 states by the end of 2019. As per 2011 Census, these 6 states accounted for 48.6% of the total Indian population. 

In spite of having the highest prison capacity – 15% of the country’s capacity, Uttar Pradesh, reported prison overcrowding with an occupancy ratio of 167%, the highest occupancy among states. It accommodated more than 21% of the prison inmates in the country. Interestingly, its neighbouring state Bihar with the second highest prison capacity in India (10.4% of the country’s prison capacity) had only about 94% of the space occupied with around 8% of the Indian prisoners.  Moreover, the number of prison inmates in Bihar was the third highest in the country, after UP and Madhya Pradesh, by the end of 2019. Except in 2017, Bihar has always had an occupancy ratio below 100% in the last ten years.  

Less than 100% Occupancy only in three states among those with more than 10,000 inmates capacity

Among the 15 states which had a capacity of more than 10,000 inmates as of 2019, 12 states had reported overcrowding and only 3 including Bihar, Tamil Nadu, and Odisha had occupancy ratio below 100%. Five of the major states with more than 150% occupancy ratio (Maharashtra, MP, Delhi, UP, and Chhattisgarh) had a capacity of more than 10,000 inmates. Andhra Pradesh and Telangana together had a capacity of around 16,574 which is 4% of the national total.

7 out of 10 prison inmates in India are undertrials

Prisons overcrowding can also be attributed to the justice system which sends more people to prison, and for longer times. Overuse of detention of undertrials is also a major contributor to the overcrowding which can be controlled only by the faster disposal of cases. As already observed in an earlier story, close to 70% of the population in prisons is that of undertrials. In terms of numbers, UP has 73,418 undertrials which alone is 21% more than the actual capacity of prisons in the state. Bihar is next in line with 31,275 undertrials, and together with UP, the two states account for almost one-third of the undertrials in India by the end of 2019. 

Detention of undertrials is a major reason for overcrowding in prisons

Among the states with higher occupancy (above 150%), it is observed that in Delhi, which has the highest occupancy rate, 82% of the prison inmates were undertrials. In Maharashtra, 75% of the inmates were undertrials and this number was 72% in UP. Chhattisgarh and MP which also fall in this category, had only 54% undertrials in prisons. On the other hand, in Bihar and Odisha which have low occupancy ratio, 79% of the inmates in each of the states were undertrials. While Telangana had 65% undertrials in prisons, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu had 63% each. This indicates that more undertrials in Bihar and Odisha are detained as compared to the other three southern states, though all of them have low occupancy ratio. 

Small percentage of undertrials in Tamil Nadu, AP, and Telangana have been detained for more than a year

Further, in the states with lower occupancy ratio, the percentage of undertrials who had been imprisoned for more than a year was comparatively lower. Hardly 3% to 7% of the undertrials had been detained in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana for more than a year. This may mean that the disposal of cases was faster in these states. Bihar had 19% and Odisha recorded 27% such undertrials in prisons by the end of 2019. However, Maharashtra, Delhi and UP which had higher occupancy had more than 30% of their undertrials detained for more than a year, which may be one of the reasons for overcrowding in these states.

More than 53% of the convicts in prisons in the country were serving life imprisonment. Four states alone (UP, MP, Chhattisgarh, and Bihar) accounted for more than half of them. Only about 9% of the prison inmates in Tamil Nadu and Punjab were serving life imprisonment by the end of 2019 in contrast to 32% in Chhattisgarh. 

More than 98% cases in Bihar were pending for trial in courts

The latest NCRB data on crimes in India is that of 2018. By the end of 2018, the prisons in UP had an occupancy of 176% and were more crowded than the Delhi prisons (154%). The states of Punjab, Bihar, Assam, Rajasthan, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, and Tamil Nadu were the major states where jails weren’t fully occupied. The rate of crime in these states, pendency in SLL and IPC crimes, and occupancy ratio as in 2018 is tabulated below. 

The crime rate calculated as number of crimes per lakh population was highest in Tamil Nadu among the states with lower prison occupancy ratio in 2018. It is observed that Tamil Nadu had the lowest occupancy of 60% in 2018 and parallelly, only 37.1% SLL cases and 71.5% IPC cases were pending in courts towards the end of 2018. In Telangana which had the second lowest occupancy ratio in 2018, around 71.4% of IPC and 71.5% of SLL cases were pending for disposal by courts. 70% of the SLL and  73.5% of the IPC cases were pending disposal by courts in Punjab. In Andhra Pradesh, only half the cases were pending by the end of 2018.  

Meanwhile in Bihar, more than 98% of the cases (both IPC & SLL)  totalling to over 13 lakh cases were pending for disposal by courts by the end of 2018, the highest among larger states. Similarly, in Odisha, more than 90% of each of the IPC & SLL cases were pending for disposal by courts.  In Chhattisgarh and Uttar Pradesh, where the prisons were already congested, close to 90% of the IPC & SLL cases were pending for disposal by courts by the end of 2018. The data indicates that in some states, higher occupancy is because of the huge pendency in the courts. 

Prison overcrowding is an issue of human rights violation

What has been discussed here are some of the many reasons behind the overcrowding of prisons. Some states did not have overcrowded prisons not because of the efficiency in case disposal but because of lower reporting of cognizable crime. Overcrowding of prisons can be avoided by faster disposal of cases. Further, measures which do not involve imprisonment for minor crimes may also be resorted to. 

Overcrowding is considered a violation of human rights since a person in prison would be deprived of basic living conditions. Imprisonment as a punishment is supposed to act as a deterrent to crimes and help in rehabilitation. But overcrowding defeats that purpose. 

Featured Image: High Pendency in courts


About Author

A bachelor’s degree in mathematics and master’s in social science, she is driven by ardent desire to work with this unique combination to create her own path instead of following the herd. Having served a stint as the college union chairperson, she is a strategist who is also passionate about nature conservation, art and loves solving Sudoku.

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