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COVID's Impact on Prisoners in India

~By Tarush

Amity Law School, Noida

A jar full of overcrowdedness, a handful of substandard medical facilities, lack of sanitation, and poor hygiene conditions coupled with a highly contagious virus sounds like the perfect recipe for disaster, which in India’s case, unfortunately, came true.

Our existing prison system is flawed at many stages and the following issues have made their already substandard living worse.

Over crowdedness and lack of sanitation:

As of 31 December 2019, there were 4,78,600 inmates kept in different prisons in India while the collective capacity to the house was only about 4,03,700 inmates. This shows that the number of prisoners was 118.5% of the prison capacity, the highest since 2010. Our prisons have been overcrowded consistently for more than a decade where prisoners can’t even sleep without feeling someone’s breath over their shoulders. This particular scenario sounds a lot more alarming during the presence of a virus that has proved to be very fatal.

While quarantining in a house together with our family might feel like a burden to us, it’s a luxury the prisoners can only dream of.

Substandard medical facilities:

Another issue our prison institute suffers from is below average medical facilities. In an environment where even free civilians find it hard to get access to oxygen and necessary medicines, we can only assume what the scenario would be in prisons if the situation worsens.

Delay in trials:

As physical court sessions have been adjourned and trials are virtually heard, it has resulted in a huge delay in trials. The hearing of cases is done based on how important the judge deems the case to be. Although the case might not be a priority for the judge but for undertrial prisoners, who aren’t even convicted but are in jails awaiting bail, the matter cannot be of more importance.

The phrase “justice delayed is justice denied” has now lost all its essence.

The mental health of prisoners:

Prisoners who are left with nothing but actions to regret and mend, constantly face a challenge to their mental health. One thing which helps as an escape from such challenges is “interview time” allotted to prisoners to meet their family members. However, this pandemic has snatched that little window of happiness since family time was suspended indefinitely during the pandemic.


I opine that the blame doesn’t only lie with the institution of prison, instead, it’s the whole society’s mentality that needs work. Our society already looks down upon them and people seem to forget that even prisoners (be it undertrials or convicts) are human too and in no way deserve the inhumane treatment that they are constantly subjected to. Such treatment along with the unfortunate years of the pandemic is a huge social issue that needs to be addressed.

This feeling of isolation from everyone was new to most of us except a small part of the society who we often overlook, the prisoners. The inmates are no new subject to physical solitary and often feel mentally isolated as well. The Judiciary has pledged to provide every single citizen of India with their basic human rights to live a life full of dignity. Such duty has been obliged upon the judiciary by our Constitution itself but for prisoners in India,

words like dignity and respect are often overlooked. Most people carry a huge misconception that prisons are an institution established to punish and make prisoners regret their actions rather than rehabilitation through which they could be turned into law-abiding, resourceful citizens.

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