Open prison can usher in reforms: Supreme Court

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday issued a slew of directives for better treatment of jail inmates, asserting that “even prisoners are entitled under Article 21 to live a life of dignity” and the government cannot shirk away from its responsibility to provide them better facilities. It snubbed the Centre for taking a stand that there are several development priorities that might require greater attention.

In a judgment on four issues, including custodial deaths, flagged by former Chief Justice of India R C Lahoti in a letter to the court, the Bench directed the High Courts to register suo motu PILs to identify and compensate the next of kin of prisoners who had died an unnatural death, 551 on them while in custody during 2012 to 2015.

On overcrowding, the Bench asked the state governments to establish “open prisons,” which are jails with minimal supervision and physical control over inmates. Prisoners are allowed to take up regular employment; they can walk out of jail campus in morning and come back in evening after their work hours.

Justice Lokur said the timing was right for the states to experiment with the open prison system. The court also asked the governments to be “far more circumspect in arresting and detaining persons, particularly under-trial prisoners who constitute the vast majority of those in judicial custody.”

Among the directions it issued included one for the prison authorities to encourage more frequent visits by the family members of the prisoners, giving them more time to meet. It also asked the prison staff to allow more access to phones.

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Free Press Journal