State plans to release undertrials on bail to ease prison overcrowding

A proposal to be placed before the Cabinet seeks to release undertrials who have served at least half of the maximum sentences for the offences they have been charged with; undertrials make up 70% of the state’s prison population

Taking an important step in the direction of judicial reforms and tackling the problem of overcrowding in the state’s jails, the Maharashtra government is looking at releasing thousands of undertrials, who have served at least half of the maximum sentences for the offences they have been charged with.


Way out: Many undertrials wait for years for their trials to come to a conclusion. Pic for representation/Thinkstock

Following in the Centre’s footsteps, the state home department has put in place a concept note that seeks to release undertrials - except those booked for charges that could lead to a life sentence or death penalty -- on bail. Maharashtra is facing an acute crisis, with thousands of inmates packed in jails like sardines, without access to basic facilities.

Prison statistics show that an average of 111.6 inmates are staying in each jail against the authorised capacity of
100 inmates in the 210 jails in the state.

The move is likely to address the problem since of the total 27,400 inmates in Maharashtra, 19,331 -- or more than 70% - are undertrials, many of whom wait years for their trials to come to a conclusion, and only 8,041 are convicts.
The state proposal, which will now be presented to the Cabinet for approval, proposes to release prisoners on personal bonds in cases where prisoners cannot give the entire surety amount.

“This will reduce the burden on the prison administration and also cut down on cost. Overall, implementing these rules properly will reduce overcrowding since prisoners will be let out regularly if their period of detention is up,” the government proposal reads.

CrPC clause
The proposal initiated by the state home department cites section 436A of the CrPC, which specifies that the maximum period an undertrial can be detained is half of the maximum sentence they can be given for their alleged offence. The code allows for release of undertrials on a personal bond, with or without surety.

“We are also acknowledging the National Human Rights Commission letter of April 29, 1999, signed by Special Rapporteur Shankar Sen, addressed to all Inspector Generals of Prisons, directing them to release undertrial prisoners and to take appropriate measures in co-ordination with High Court and Legal Aid Authority,” said a senior official from the state home department.

The state has said the prison administration will be able to perform effectively if and when prisons are not overcrowded, the administration is not overburdened, sufficient resources are made available and systems are transparent, automated and are not discretion based.

The proposed guidelines also call for a greater role for civil society in assisting jail administration in its functions.

Number crunching

>> On an average 111.6 inmates are staying in the state’s jails, against the authorised capacity of 100 inmates.
>> Out of the total 27,400 inmates, 19,331 — or more than 70% inmates are undertrials
>> 40.8 % of the undertrials are in the age group of 18 to 30
>> 36.6 % of the undertrials are educated beyond Std X
>> 36.5 % belong to the SC/ST category.
>> 98 of the undertrial prisoners are women (with 117 children who are in prison with them)

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