Special Protection to Prisoners Under Human Rights

Special Protection to Prisoners Under Human Rights


In every penal system, imprisonment is a special feature to protect society against heinous crimes. At present more than 5 lakh inmates are in jail and around half of the prisoners are undergoing trial. Earlier, the condition of the prisoners was literally worse as they were treated brutally with no rights given to them. However, with the passage of time, it was recognized by our society that all men are born equal and the prisoners shall also be provided with certain minimum rights which are essential for living a meaningful life. To fulfill this mandate, our constitution guarantees some fundamental rights to the prisoners as given to ordinary citizens.

In this article, we are going to discuss the human rights conferred to the prisoners to live a dignified life. Further, we will explore the legal protection given to prisoners in our country under various legislative enactments.

Prisoners and Human Rights

The term ‘prison’ means to cage someone by using force with the objective of eliminating that individual from mainstream society. The roots of imprisonment can be traced back to the ancient period when Manusmriti advised the king to keep all the evil and wrongdoers in prison. However, the major development in our prison system took place post-independence where the rights of prisoners were recognized.

Article 21 of our Constitution puts a complete restriction on any inhuman, cruel, and disgraceful treatment of any person, including the prisoners. From time and again, our judiciary has recognized various rights of prisoners, which are discussed below:

Right to life

The right to life is fundamental without which we cannot live as human beings and includes all those aspects of life, which go to make a human’s life meaningful, complete, and worth living. This is the article in the Constitution that has received the widest possible interpretation.

Case law

Sunil Batra vs. Delhi administration (air 1980)

Held that Article 21 includes all persons it also includes the accused, those under trial, and prisoners.

Nirmal Singh Kahton vs. state of Punjab ( Air 2009)

Held that fair investigation and fair trial given all to preserve the rights of prisoners.

Right against Torture

It is a harsh reality that the prisoners are given very poor treatment in the prison and jail officials unleash severe brutality on them. Even, they are subject to third-degree treatment in some cases. To protect them, the Prisoners Act 1984 provides that if any police officer commits cruelty to any prisoners, he will be held responsible for that. At the international level also, the usage of torture has always been condemned. Our judiciary has become vigilant and custodial torture has resulted in the departmental inquiry against the perpetrators.

Case law

Sheela Barsi vs. Maharastra (Air 1983)

In this case, the Supreme Court gives directions for protection against the torture of women in a police cell. Provide separate lockups for females and guarded by women constables, investigation done in the presence of women constables.

Rights against Solitary Confinement & Handcuffing

As per Black’s Law Dictionary, solitary confinement means alienating prisoners with very limited access to other people. In other words, it is the complete isolation of prisoners from society.

Case law

Prem Shankar vs. Delhi administration (Air 1980)

The Hon’ble Supreme Court in the case of Sunil Batra v Delhi Administration observed that solitary confinement shall be resorted to only in exceptional circumstances as it may result in In humanizing effect on prisoners. This is quoted by Justice Krishna Iyer.

Right to Reasonable Wages

As we are very much aware prisoners had to perform laborious and other kinds of work in prison. Thus, they shall be paid a reasonable minimum wage, which must not be trivial in nature. Our Apex Court has categorically held that the labour performed by a prisoner for which no remuneration or wages is paid is forced labour, which is a restricted practice and hence violative of Article 23 of our Constitution.

Right to Legal Representation

The right to legal representation is a fundamental right of every prisoner, recognized by international human rights law and national laws in most countries, including India. This right is essential to ensure that prisoners are able to access justice, defend themselves against accusations, and challenge the legality of their detention.

In India, the right to legal representation is enshrined in the Constitution of India and the Code of Criminal Procedure. Every prisoner has the right to be represented by a lawyer during the trial and appeal process, regardless of their ability to pay for legal services. If a prisoner cannot afford a lawyer, the state is responsible for providing a lawyer to them.

Right to Privacy

Every prisoner has the right to privacy, which includes the right to have their personal information kept confidential. The right to privacy of a prisoner is a fundamental human right that is protected under various national and international laws, including the Constitution of India, the, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The right to privacy of a prisoner encompasses several aspects, such as the right to confidentiality of personal information, the right to be free from arbitrary or unlawful interference with their privacy, and the right to communicate with their legal representatives or family members without being monitored or recorded. However, it is important to note that the right to privacy of a prisoner may be restricted in certain circumstances, such as for security reasons or to prevent crime.

Right to Health and Medical Treatment

Every prisoner has the right to receive medical care and treatment for any health issues they may have, as outlined under Article 21 of the Constitution of India and various guidelines and regulations issued by the government. This right is essential for ensuring that prisoners are treated with dignity and respect and that their basic needs are met while they are in custody.

Prison authorities have a duty to provide adequate medical care to prisoners, including access to qualified medical professionals, medications, and necessary medical facilities. Any delay or denial of medical treatment can constitute a violation of a prisoner’s right to health and can lead to serious harm or even death.

Right to Speedy Trial

The right to a speedy trial is a fundamental right of every prisoner that is protected by law. This right is enshrined in the Constitution of India, which guarantees the right to a fair and speedy trial under Article 21. The right to a speedy trial is important because it ensures that justice is delivered in a timely manner and that prisoners are not subjected to prolonged periods of detention without trial. The speedy trial is also supplemented with Section 309 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973.

The Supreme Court of India has held that the right to a speedy trial is an integral part of the right to life and liberty guaranteed by the Constitution. If a prisoner’s right to a speedy trial is violated, they have the right to file a writ petition before the appropriate court seeking redress. The court may then issue directions to ensure that the trial is conducted in a timely manner. In some cases, the court may also order the release of the prisoner on bail or parole.

Case law

Hussainara Khatoon vs. home secretory, bihar (Air 1979)

Financial priority in expenditure would not enable the govt. to avoid its duty to ensure a speedy trial for the accused. Long pre-trial incarceration is violative of Article 21 and bail should be given to the poor and needy.

Some related case law to Special Protection to Prisoners under Human Rights

Bachan Singh vs. State of Punjab

In this case, the court held that the death sentence would be given only in the concept of rarest and rare cases.

Sunil Batra vs. Delhi administration

This Supreme Court emphasizes that books and basic human facilities provided to prisoners


From the above discussion, it is evident that the condition of prisoners has improved significantly in the last couple of decades as some minimal rights were given to them duly recognized by the judiciary. A prisoner cannot be subject to cruelty or inhumane treatment in the jail premises to protect the right to a dignified life. In addition to this, other rights of prisoners include – the right to legal representation, the right to privacy, the right to health & medical treatment, etc.

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