SC Committee Tells Apex Court, Suicide Major Cause Of Unnatural Deaths Among Prisoners In India IG News

Stressing on the need to have suicide-proof barracks, the Supreme Court’s prison reforms committee told the top court that suicide is a major reason for 817 unnatural deaths in prisons across the country between 2017 and 2021. The apex court-appointed committee headed by former Supreme Court judge Justice (retd) Amitav Rai has said that out of 817 unnatural deaths, 660 were suicides and Uttar Pradesh recorded the highest number of 101 suicides during this period.

There is a need to identify possible hanging and anchoring points within the existing design of prison infrastructure and construct suicide-resistant cells or barracks, the committee said in its final summary of the report submitted to the apex court. The final summary of the report, dated December 27, 2022, has nine chapters, including unnatural deaths in prisons, death row convicts and violence in Indian prisons.

In September 2018, the apex court had constituted a three-member committee headed by Justice (retd) Rai to look into issues related to prison reforms and make recommendations on several aspects, including overcrowding in prisons. In the section titled “Unnatural Deaths in Jails”, the committee has said that custodial torture or death in custody is a violation of the basic rights of citizens and is an insult to human dignity.

It added that the report is based on data provided in the Prison Statistics India (PSI) report from 2017 to 2021, published by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB).

The report said the committee analyzed PSI data related to deaths (natural and unnatural) in India’s prisons and found that the number of custodial deaths has seen a steady increase since 2019 and is expected to reach a peak in 2021. The highest number of deaths have been reported from suicide (80 per cent), which is the leading cause of unnatural deaths. It said that in the five years from 2017 to 2021, there were 462 deaths due to old age and 7,736 deaths due to illness.

Out of a total of 817 unnatural deaths in India’s prisons between 2017-2021, there were 660 suicides and 41 murders in prisons across India during the last five years, the report said. The committee noted that 46 deaths during this period were related to accidental deaths, while seven inmates died due to attack by outside elements and negligence or excesses by jail staff, respectively.

It said, Uttar Pradesh has recorded the highest number of suicides (101) in the country during the last five years i.e. from 2017 to 2021, followed by the states of Punjab and West Bengal where 63 and 60 prisoners committed suicide respectively. Delhi recorded the highest number of 40 suicides during the last five years among Union Territories. The committee has recommended that as far as possible, the production of senior citizens and sick prisoners in the courts should be done through video conferencing.

It said, suicide is a major cause of unnatural deaths among prisoners. Prison staff should be trained to recognize the warning signs and proper mechanisms should be put in place to safeguard life in prisons. The Committee noted that prison staff should be regularly provided with the necessary training to recognize signs of depression and abnormal behavior, which may also include suicidal intent, and that prisoners be compulsorily provided psychological first aid according to their needs. Should be known

It states that a consistent and well-researched model of suicide treatment should be developed and implemented in prisons across the country. At the same time, the jail administration should take immediate and effective steps to stop the violence among the prisoners.

To reduce violence in prisons, the committee said, it has been recommended that there should be segregation between first-time offenders and repeat offenders during their transportation to prisons, hospitals and courts and other places. It said, prison administration should make efforts to implement national and state health insurance schemes such as Ayushman Bharat Yojana, Chiranjeevi Swasthya Bima Yojana and similar state health insurance schemes widely in prisons.

Among several recommendations, the report also suggested the need for a robust grievance redressal mechanism for prisoners to lodge their grievances. The apex court is considering a matter relating to the conditions prevailing in 1,382 jails across India. The hearing of this case is to be held on September 26.