The Standing Committee on Empowerment of Women has suggested that more women lawyers should engage with the District Legal Aid Societies (DLASs) to facilitate access for justice to women prisoners.
In its report titled ‘Women in Detention and Access to Justice’, the Committee, chaired by Ms. Bijoya Chakravarty, also suggests that an impact assessment of the Model Prison Manual, 2003 and the new Model Prison Manual, 2016 be carried out, noting, “The Model Prison Manual, 2003 was prepared with the objective of bringing uniformity in rules governing prison administration across the country. A revised Model Prison Manual had been approved in January, 2016. The Committee observed that no notable steps were taken to ensure implementation of the Model Prison Manual, 2003. Further, it observed that after thirteen years since the passage of the manual, no impact assessment was conducted on its implementation. The Committee recommended that an impact assessment should be conducted regarding implementation of both the Model Prison Manual, 2003 and the new Model Prison Manual, 2016.”
The Report takes note of the problem of overcrowding of jails, and points out that one of the key reasons for this is delay in trials. Highlighting the fact that most of these undertrials are petty criminals, it suggests that alternative methods be used for dealing with non-criminal offenders and petty criminals.
The Committee also came across infringement of rights of prisoners as a result of police behavior during detention, and hence, recommends that better surveillance measures be put in place in order to ensure effective prison management. In the same leaf, it suggests that officials be provided proper training to ensure gender sensitization in prison management. Besides, special recruitment drives have been advocated for, to recruit more women officials.
Further, the Committee noticed lack of data on common health ailments prevalent among women prisoners and has proposed that surveys be conducted across prisons, in collaboration with state governments and NGOs, to compile such data.
Furthermore, it opined that foreign prisoners were more vulnerable because of reasons including: (i) lack of understanding of the trial process, (ii) absence of good interpreters, and (iii) linguistic differences. It, therefore, recommends that the prison authorities should address the religious, dietary, and spiritual needs of foreign prisoners. It also suggests that special cells be created for dealing with foreign nationals in custody.