The Prison Statistics India (PSI) report for 2021 was released recently. As per data provided in the report, the occupancy in Indian prisons crossed 130% by the end of 2021. Of the 5.54 lakh inmates lodged in prisons across India by end of 2021, 4.27 lakh were undertrials. Their share has increased to 77% by the end of 2021 from 66% by the end of 2012.
The annual Prison Statistics India (PSI) report published by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) provides comprehensive statistical information on various aspects of prison administration in India such as type of jails & occupancy, types of prisoners & demography, Indian & foreign prisoners, releases, transfers, movements, rehabilitation, and welfare of prisoners, etc. The report contains information on prisons, prisoners, and prison infrastructure in India and was first published in 1995. The report is based on the information produced by state prison departments. Recently, the NCRB released the report for 2021.
Prison occupancy crossed 130% in 2021, despite pandemic
As per the 2021 PSI report, there were 5.54 lakh inmates lodged in prisons across the country while the actual capacity of the prisons was only 4.26 lakh persons, as on 31 December 2021. The prison occupancy ratio touched 130.2%, the highest in the last 12 years. In other words, about 130 people were accommodated in a space meant to accommodate only 100 persons, highlighting the overcrowding in Indian prisons. This is despite the efforts to release the inmates languishing in prisons to ease the overcrowding in lieu of the COVID-19 pandemic as per court directions in 2020 and 2021.
The majority of the inmates in prisons are undertrials. An undertrial is a person who is currently on trial in a court of law. It should be noted that, unlike a convict who is found guilty by the court and sentenced to imprisonment by a court of law, an undertrial is an accused person kept in custody while the trial takes place in the court. Of the 5.54 lakh inmates lodged in the country’s prisons by the end of 2021, more than 4.27 lakh inmates were undertrials. Their share has only been increasing over the years. In the last decade, the share of undertrials increased from 66.2% by the end of 2012, to 77.1% by the end of 2021. In numerical terms, the number of undertrials in prisons was 2.55 lakhs by the end of 2012 (out of 3.73 lakh prison inmates) which has also continuously increased to 4.27 lakh by the end of 2021. That is, the number of undertrials has increased almost 1.7 times in the last decade.
1 in 3 undertrials in prison were confined for up to 3 months
The majority of the undertrials in prisons were those in confinement for up to 3 months. As the period of confinement increases, the share of undertrial prisoners and their numbers decreased.
Those who were confined for up to 3 months constituted more than one-third (34%) of the total undertrials in prisons in 2021, which is 1.46 lakh out of 4.27 lakh undertrial prisoners. Compared to 2012 (37.8%), the share of undertrials confined for up to 3 months has decreased. Those who were confined for 3 to 6 months, and 6 to 12 months constituted 20.3% and 16.5% respectively, in 2021, down from 22.1% and 17.6% respectively in 2012.
While there has been an overall reduction in the share of those undertrials who have been confined for up to a year, the share of those undertrials who have been confined for more than a year has increased over the years. The share of undertrials under confinement for more than a year has crossed 7.5% by the end of 2020 compared to less than 6% by the end of 2012. Likewise, the share of undertrials under confinement for 3 to 5 years has gone up from 3.4% by the end of 2012 to 5.6% by the end of 2021 and those under confinement for more than five years has gone increased from less than 1% to nearly 2.7% during the same period.
In terms of absolute numbers, the number of undertrials in confinement for 2 to 3 years has more than doubled since 2012, while that under confinement for 3 to 5 years has increased by more than 2.5 times. The number of undertrials in prisons for more than five years has also gone up by close to 6 times.
A disproportionately higher share of Muslims and Sikhs among undertrial prison inmates compared to their population share
The religion and caste-wise break up of undertrial prisoners is also provided in the PSI report. However, it should be noted that the data for 2016 was not published by the NCRB. Also, Maharashtra stopped providing demographic break up of undertrial prisoners since 2017 because of which the religion and caste-based distribution has been calculated excluding Maharashtra.
Hindus constituted more than 73% of the undertrials by the end of 2021, compared to less than 70% till 2015. Muslims comprised between 19 to 21% throughout the last ten years while Sikhs constituted 3.5 to 4.2%. The share of Christians has reduced marginally from 3.1% by end of 2018 to 2.34% by end of 2021. As per Census 2011, Hindus constituted 79.8%, Muslims made up 14.2%, Christians 2.34% and Sikhs 1.87% of the Indian population. Data from the PSI report indicates that there is a disproportionately higher share of Muslims and Sikhs among the undertrials in prisons, compared to their population share.
1 in 3 undertrials in prison is either SC or ST
In terms of caste breakup, the share of Scheduled Caste (SC) undertrials in prisons have always been between 20 to 23% while that of Scheduled Tribe (ST) undertrial prison inmates has been between 10 to 13% while their share of the population was less than 9% as per Census 2011. Since 2018, the share of SC undertrials has always been more than 22% though the share of the SC population in the country is about 16.6%. The share of Other Backward Class (OBC) undertrial inmates has increased over the years. It was below 32% until 2015 and since then increased gradually. In 2021, more than 38.2% of undertrial inmates belonged to OBC. Meanwhile, the share of undertrials from ‘other’ castes has dropped to less than 30% since 2018.
While distribution based on age, gender, and domicile hasn’t changed much, the share of undertrials with education beyond Class-X has increased
The share of illiterate persons and those who did not complete ‘Class-X’ among the undertrials in prisons has dropped from 30% and 43.3% by the end of 2012 to 25.3% and 39.4%, respectively by the end of 2021. Meanwhile, the share of those who studied beyond ‘Class-X’, graduates, and postgraduates has increased from 19.6%, 4.9%, and 0.8% respectively by the end of 2012 to 24.6%, 7.7%, and 1.78% respectively, by the end of 2021.
Since 2012, more than 95% of the undertrials were males and over 4% were females. It was only starting in 2019 that the category of transgenders was incorporated. Transgenders constituted less than 0.02% in 2020 and 2021.
On average, during the last decade, about 48% of the undertrials were aged 18 to 30 years old, and over 41% were aged between 30 and 50 years. About 10 to 11% of them were aged more than 50 years. Those aged between 16 to 18 years constituted a minuscule share (0.01%).
In almost all the years, close to 91% of the undertrials belonged to the same state in which they were imprisoned. Those belonging to other states contributed about 8%, and the rest were foreigners.
Faster trials & granting bails to eligible undertrials the only way to reduce overcrowding
As the data indicates, more undertrials go behind bars with every passing year. Not only is the number of undertrial inmates increasing, but their detention is for a longer duration. Many undertrials continue to languish in prisons for more than 1 or 2 years, which means the period of confinement has also increased. Also, there is a disproportionately higher share of Muslim and Sikh undertrial prison inmates as compared to their share in the population. Likewise, the share of undertrials belonging to SC and ST categories in prisons is also higher than their share in the general population.
The only way to reduce overcrowding in prisons is to reduce the number of undertrials. This is possible only through faster trials and grants of bails to eligible undertrials under Section 436A of CrPC. Further, despite the Supreme Court’s intervention in the past, there has not been much progress in the release of under-trials under the existing provisions.
Featured Image: Number of undertrial prisoners