Why is it in the news?
- Recently, the prime accused in a murder case was found dead inside Chennai’s high-security Puzhal Central prison in 2016.
- Officials claimed that the accused killed himself by “pulling and biting into a live electric wire”. Mr. Ramkumar’s father, however, alleged that it was an act of homicide.
More about the news
Classification of Prison Deaths
- Prison deaths are categorized as either ‘natural’ or ‘unnatural’ in the Prison Statistics India report published by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB).
- In 2021, 90% of prison deaths were classified as ‘natural,’ which includes deaths due to aging and illnesses.
- ‘Unnatural’ deaths encompass a wide range of reasons, including suicide, death due to inmates, assault by outside elements, firing, negligence or excesses, and accidental deaths.
Suicide in Prisons
- A report by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) found that the suicide rate among inmates is more than twice that of the general population.
- After suicide, the most common causes of unnatural deaths in prisons are listed as “other” reasons or murder by inmates.
- The socio-economic background of the inmate population often includes a lack of education and means to afford bail.
Ambiguity in Classification
- The distinction between natural and unnatural deaths is considered unclear by legal experts, as some deaths resulting from a lack of proper medical attention may be categorized as natural or unnatural.
- Ambiguity, along with underreporting and inadequate investigations, often leads to a majority of deaths being classified as ‘natural.’
Factors contributing to deaths
- Congested prisons, lack of access to medical care, and inadequate staff training are cited as contributing factors to prison deaths.
- Only 5% of expenditure is allocated to medical facilities in prisons.
- Infrastructure deficiencies result in callousness and neglect of inmates’ health, leading to ‘unnatural’ deaths that are attributed to ‘natural’ causes.
Investigations and Accountability
- The NCRB is required to report custodial deaths within 24 hours, followed by post-mortem reports and inquiries.
- However, disciplinary actions against erring officials are rarely taken.
- There is a need for clear and reliable documentation, greater transparency, and accountability in investigating prison deaths.
- The Supreme Court and various guidelines emphasize the importance of inmates’ right to healthcare and mental health support.
- Recommendations include investing in healthcare facilities, mental health units, training officers, and suicide prevention programs.
- Addressing staff shortages, improving infrastructure, and allowing inmates access to literature and communication with family are suggested measures.
- Regular checks on bed sheets and blankets to prevent suicides.
- Mental health literacy training for prison staff.
- Observation and support by prison staff, including trained inmate “buddies.”
- Implementing the Gatekeeper Model for identifying prisoners at risk of suicide.
- Addressing addiction issues among inmates.
- Providing life-skill education and activities for inmates to channel their energies positively.
Structural changes in the public and official mindset regarding prisoners and a revamping of the criminal justice system are considered essential to address the issue of prison deaths.