Overcrowding in jails: Need to tackle the issue of jailed under-trials through bail reform

By: |
September 1, 2020 8:23 AM

More important, none of the reforms suggested in the law commission reports or by committees seem to have been acted upon.

Overcrowding in jails, NCRB data, 268th Law Commission report,  criminal cases,  Code of Criminal ProcedureIn 2017, the 268th Law Commission report, for instance, had highlighted that bail reforms need to be instituted immediately, and the government needs to expand the scope of Section 436A of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

A recent report from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) shows overcrowding in jails increased from 115% in 2015 to 119% in 2019. While the increase doesn’t surprise-last year, an SC-appointed committee had indicated this, as had the NALSA report in 2017-the length of time over which overcrowding in jails has been allowed to fester is shocking. While 57% of those lodged in jails comprised of under-trials in 1975, NCRB data shows this increased to 67% in 2019.

More important, none of the reforms suggested in the law commission reports or by committees seem to have been acted upon. In 2017, the 268th Law Commission report, for instance, had highlighted that bail reforms need to be instituted immediately, and the government needs to expand the scope of Section 436A of the Code of Criminal Procedure. The Section directs that an under-trial having spent half the maximum period of the sentence be released; the commission had recommended this to be brought down to one-third for offences where the maximum period is up to seven years. Last year, the court had asked under-trial review committees to meet every month for the first six months to review under-trial cases. Earlier this year, taking cognizance of the matter, the CJI had remarked the issue was connected to the performance of courts. The NCRB report highlights that there was also the problem of understaffing in prison. As against a requirement of nearly 1 lakh people, only 60,000 posts had been filled. Although bail reforms need to be brought in immediately, the court needs to complement them with prison reforms and fast-tracking of criminal cases.

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