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Data: Share of Undertrials in Indian prisons crossed 75% by the end of 2020

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Data from the NCRB ‘Prison Statistics India-2020’ indicates that the number of undertrials in Indian prisons crossed 75% by the end of 2020. While this increase is driven in part by an increased number of arrests in 2020, the reduced disposal in courts is another major reason. 

The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) recently released the “Prison Statistics India (PSI) – 2020” Report. Based on this data, we had highlighted in the earlier story that more than 3/4th of the inmate population are those undertrials.  

The share of inmates under trial went up by over more than 10% in 10 years. In 2011, the share of undertrials was 65% which increased to 76% by the end of 2020. In this story, we analyse the trends in under-trial inmates over the years. 

Substantial increase in the proportion of Undertrial inmates during 2020 

As already pointed out, the proportion of undertrial inmates out of the total inmates in 2011 was around 65%. Except for 2014 & 2015, there has been an increase in the proportion of undertrial inmates year-on-year. However, the increase has been slower prior to 2020. 

During the period from 2011 to 2019, the total number of inmates in Indian prisons increased from 3.73 lakhs to 4.81 lakhs i.e., an increase of around 29%. During the same period, the number of inmates under trial increased from 2.41 lakhs to 3.72 lakhs i.e., an increase of 38%. The steeper increase in the number of inmates under trial compared to total inmates is reflected in the increase of the share of undertrials.

As highlighted in the earlier story, there were efforts to release the inmates languishing in prisons to ease the overcrowding in lieu of COVID-19 as per court directions. However, the increase in the arrests also meant the number of inmates increased by the end of 2020. The number of inmates increased from 4.81 lakhs in 2019 to 4.89 lakhs in 2020 on account of a greater number of arrests in 2020. The increase in the number of inmates under trial was much higher, from 3.33 lakhs by the end of 2019 to 3.72 lakhs by the end of 2020, taking the share of undertrial inmates from 69% at the beginning of 2020 to 76% by the end of the year. 

In 2020, an increase in arrests contributed to an increase in the undertrial population 

Various factors influence the increase in the numbers of those undertrials. The slow trial process in the courts is one of the reasons. As per the data provided in NCRB’s Crime in India report, we have earlier highlighted that there is an increase in cases pending trial in the courts, meaning that many of those arrested for crimes in 2020 would be in prisons as undertrials if they are not released on bail. Adding to the delay in the courts is the increase in the number of arrests made in 2020. 

In 2020, there has been a significant increase in the number of arrests made. There was a total of 68.15 lakh arrests in 2020 (under both IPC & SLL crimes) compared to 52.13 lakhs in 2019 i.e., an increase of around 31%. We had noted earlier that there was an increase of 38% in the number of inmates under trial by the end of 2020. 

However, the increase in undertrials over the years cannot be solely attributed to the arrests. Data as per NCRB’s CII report shows that there has been a year-on-year fall in the arrests made prior to 2020. In 2016, 61.3 lakh arrests were made, which reduced continuously and reached 52.13 lakh in 2019.

As already highlighted, there is a continuous increase in the number of persons under trial in prisons. This means while the significant increase in arrests was a contributory factor in 2020, the issue of undertrials is more due to systemic issues in trial and disposal of cases, rather than a direct correlation with the number of arrests.  

A review of the crimes reported in 2020 shows that the increase in the incidence of crimes is largely due to the cases booked in enforcing the COVID-19 related lockdown measures and also to an extent increase under “Other SLL crimes”. 

Increase in the share of undertrials in detention for more than a year 

Many of those under trial in prisons are those in detention for less than 3 months. In 2020, out of the 3.71 lakh prisoners under trial, around 1.3 lakhs i.e., 35% were under detention for less than 3 months. As the duration of detention increases, the number of inmates under trial is lesser. By the end of 2020, around 1.07 lakhs i.e., around 28% are in detention for more than a year. Of these around 7.1 thousand i.e., around 1.9% of those under-trials was in detention for more than 5 years. 

Even in the earlier years, the trends in the proportion of those in detention based on duration remain the same with a higher number of under-trial prisoners being in detention for less than 3 months. However, this changed slightly in 2020.  By the end of 2020, the share of those undertrials in detention for less than 3 months fell from around 37% to 35.5%. This share is taken over by more long-duration prisoners. While 1.9% of undertrials were in detention for more than 5 years by the end of 2020, this was only 1.5 % by the end of 2019.  More than 2 thousand inmates under trial were added on to the ones in detention for more than 5 years in the year 2020. 

Around 85% of the inmates in Bihar and 90% in Delhi are those Under the trial 

In the earlier story, we highlighted that UP has the highest prison occupancy rate with 177% by the end of 2020. It is also the state with the highest number of inmates who are under trial, with 80.5 thousand, which is about 75% of the total prison inmates in the U.P by the end of 2020. 

The percentage is better than the national average of 76%. 

The higher national average is driven by a few other states. In Bihar, 44.18 thousand out of the total 51.9 thousand inmates are under-trial i.e., around 85%. The prison occupancy rate of Bihar is 113% i.e., more than the capacity in the state.  Similarly, Maharashtra which has a prison occupancy rate of 128.7%, has around 82% of its inmates under trial. 

Punjab & Odisha which have a lower prison occupancy rate, have a higher number of its inmates under trial. Madhya Pradesh, a state with a high prison occupancy rate of 158.6% has a lower share of its inmates as under trials with 68.5%. Delhi, which has the highest prison occupancy rate, next only to UP at 159.5% has a very high proportion of its inmates under trial with 90%. This is the highest among all large states. 

Quick disposal is the only solution 

It is apparent that the number of inmates who are under trial not only constitutes the major share of the prison inmates in the country but is also increasing every year. This increase is not just driven by new arrests but largely because of being under trial and in detention for a longer duration. As highlighted earlier, even this number is increasing. The only solution is quicker disposal followed by providing automatic bail to eligible inmates as per Section 436A of the IPC. 

Featured Image: Undertrials in Indian prisons

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