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Overcrowded Jails, 1 Doctor Per 842 Inmates: What India Justice Report Reveals

77% of India's prison-population is under-trial, with the number of under-trials doubling between 2010 and 2021.

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Video Producer: Mayank Chawla

Video Editor: Abhishek Sharma

Imagine eight people living in an apartment that can house four?

Imagine ten people eating on a table that can seat five?

Imagine twelve people travelling in a train compartment that can only carry six?

Now imagine 6,921 inmates residing in prisons with capacity of 3,741. This last one isn’t a figment of our imagination, but actual data about Uttarakhand prisons, as collated in the India Justice Report (IJR) 2022

Uttarakhand, thus, is home to nearly 7000 prisoners, incarcerated across 11 jails. It also records 1 doctor against 10 sanctioned posts. 

But this problem of overcrowding, is not limited to Uttarakhand alone. 

57 of the 74 prisons in Uttar Pradesh had an occupancy above 150% in 2022.  This means that the percentage of inmates in over 77% of the prisons of the state was at least 50% more than its maximum capacity. 

77% of India's prison-population is under-trial, with the number of under-trials doubling between 2010 and 2021.

The average national occupancy rate is 130%

(Illustration: The Quint; Source: India Justice Report, 2022)

  • In fact, as per IJR 2022, 391 of the 1314 prisons in India had an occupancy above 150% last year

  • 54% jails in India are overcrowded

  • The average national occupancy rate is 130%

As noted in the report, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime classifies 150% overcrowding as ‘extreme’, and 120% as ‘critical’. So by this logic the average national occupancy rate is already in critical condition, and 391 prisons are in the extreme territory.

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What’s more, as per IJR’s analysis of data: 

Twenty-two prisons recorded occupancy rates of more than 500%.
77% of India's prison-population is under-trial, with the number of under-trials doubling between 2010 and 2021.

Occupancy in prisons in India.

(Illustration: The Quint; Source: India Justice Report, 2022)

And some individual prisons have an even more harrowing story to tell.

  • The district jail in Dantewada, Chhattisgarh has an average of 4,963% occupancy—nearly 50 times more than its capacity

  • The district jail in Nalbari, Assam holds 4,500 inmates on average against the available capacity of 155.

Far too many undertrials?

77% of India's prison-population is under-trial, with the number of under-trials doubling between 2010 and 2021.

77% of inmates are undertrial.

(Illustration: The Quint; Source: India Justice Report, 2022)

To answer that question one may look at more data:

  • 77% of India’s prison population is ‘undertrial’. This means they are yet to even be convicted of an offence

  • The number of under-trials doubled between 2010 and 2021, going from 2.4 lakh to 4.3 lakh

  • As per Prison Statistics of India data, nationally, 88,725 (20.8 per cent) undertrials spent 1 to 3 years in prison

“Prolonged detention of undertrials is an indication that trials are taking a longer time to complete,” IJR adds.

Imagine spending three years in a tightly packed-jail, bursting beyond capacity, sharing a barrack with more people than it can possible contain, and all the health and hygiene risks that come with overcrowding, only to be acquitted at the end of it? 

But aren't the health facilities at par to meet the rising prison population? 

77% of India's prison-population is under-trial, with the number of under-trials doubling between 2010 and 2021.

“At the end of 2021, 658 doctors across 1,319 prisons indicates half a doctor per prison. Taken against the incarcerated prison population of 554,034 at the end of the year there was 1 doctor for every 842 inmates and 1 woman doctor for 266 women prisoners," says IJR 2022.

(Illustration: The Quint; Source: India Justice Report, 2022)

As per the report:

“At the end of 2021, 658 doctors across 1,319 prisons indicates half a doctor per prison. Taken against the incarcerated prison population of 554,034 at the end of the year there was 1 doctor for every 842 inmates and 1 woman doctor for 266 women prisoners.”
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But why are our prisons so crowded?

The India Justice Report sheds light to other concerning statistics as well, which may, to some extent, explain why our prisons appear to be bursting at the seams and our under-trials languishing in seemingly endless captivity.

These include data such as that there are 50 million pending cases awaiting resolution in our courts, and that, on an average, there is one high court judge for 17.7 lakh people and one subordinate court judge for 71,000 people.

Further, the number of legal services clinics dropped from 14,159 in 2020 to 4,742 in 2022.

Access the full India Justice Project 2022 report here.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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