Custodial Deaths: SC suggests establishing open jails & use of phone & video conferencing for communication with family and lawyers

Supreme Court: Showing deep anguish over the increasing number of custodial or unnatural deaths in the prisons across India, the bench of Madan B. Lokur and Deepak Gupta, JJ issued a list of directions and said:

“The right sounding noises critical of custodial violence (in any form) cannot achieve any useful purpose unless persons in authority hear the voices of the victims or the silence of the dead and act on them by taking remedial steps.”

The directions issued by the Court are as follows:

Compensation: Chief Justices of all the High Courts should register a suo motu public interest petition with a view to identifying the next of kin of the prisoners who have admittedly died an unnatural death as revealed by the NCRB during the period between 2012 and 2015 and even thereafter, and award suitable compensation, unless adequate compensation has already been awarded.

Directions for educating & training Prison officials:

  • The Ministry of Home Affairs should circulate, by 31st October, 2017, the(i) the Model Prison Manual, (ii) the monograph prepared by the NHRC entitled “Suicide in Prison – prevention strategy and implication from human rights and legal points of view”, (iii) the communications sent by the NHRC, (iv) the compendium of advisories issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs to the State Governments, (v) the Nelson Mandela Rules and (vi) the Guidelines on Investigating Deaths in Custody issued by the International Committee of the Red Cross to the Director General or Inspector General of Police (as the case may be) in charge of prisons in every State and Union Territory.
  • NCRB should explain and clarify the distinction between unnatural and natural deaths in prisons as indicated on the website of the NCRB and in its Annual Reports and also explain the sub-categorization ‘others’ within the category of unnatural deaths as well as subcategorize natural deaths by 31st October, 2017.
  • The State Governments should, in conjunction with the State Legal Services Authority (SLSA), the National and State Police Academy and the Bureau of Police Research and Development conduct training and sensitization programmes for senior police officials of all prisons on their functions, duties and responsibilities as also the rights and duties of prisoners.

Counselors in Prison:

  • The State Governments are directed to appoint counselors and support persons for counselling prisoners, particularly first-time offenders in order to counsel and advice prisoners who might be facing some crisis situation or might have some violent or suicidal tendencies.

Visitation rights & Open Jails:

  • Visits to prison by the family of a prisoner should be encouraged, However, the time or frequency of meetings can be extended and the possibility of using phones and video conferencing for communications not only between a prisoner and family members of that prisoner, but also between a prisoner and the lawyer, whether appointed through the State Legal Services Authority or otherwise can be explored.
  • The constitution of a Board of Visitors by 30th November, 2017, which includes non-official visitors is of considerable importance so that eminent members of society can participate in initiating reforms in prisons and in the rehabilitation of prisoners.
  • The establishment of ‘open jails’ or ‘open prisons’ should be considered.

Medical Assistance:

  • The State Governments are directed to study the availability of medical assistance to prisoners and take remedial steps wherever necessary.

Custodial Death of Children

  • The Ministry of Women & Child Development should discuss with the concerned officers of the State Governments and formulate procedures, by 31st December, 2017, for tabulating the number of children (if any) who suffer an unnatural death in child care institutions where they are kept in custody either because they are in conflict with law or because they need care and protection.

The Court also directed the Chief Justice of every High Court, in the capacity of Patron-in-Chief of the State Legal Services Authority, to take up the initiative of conducting a study in respect of the overall conditions in prisons in the State and the facilities available and, if necessary, set up a Committee headed preferably by the Executive Chairperson of the State Legal Services Authority to implement the directions given above. [Re- Inhuman Conditions in 1382 Prisons, 2017 SCC OnLine SC 1109, decided on 15.09.2017]

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