The Supreme Court has asked all high courts to “register a suo motu public interest litigation” to identify the next of kin of prisoners who died unnatural deaths behind bars between 2012 and 2015 and thereafter and award them suitable compensation, unless it has already been awarded. The apex court bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta was hearing a PIL highlighting the sorry state of prisons when it came up with a slew of directions to check “unnatural deaths” behind bars.
According to data with the National Crime Records Bureau, 551 “unnatural deaths”, including 328 suicides, had happened in prisons across the country between 2012 and 2015. A monograph by the National Human Rights Commission published in December 2014 pointed out that between 2007 and 2011, suicides accounted for 71 per cent of the total number of unnatural deaths in prison. The court also referred to the NHRC monograph titled “Suicide in Prison-prevention strategy and implication from human rights and legal points of view”.
The monograph has pointed out that the average suicide rate among the general public for this period was 11 per 100,000, whereas the average suicide rate in prison was 16.9 per 100,000.
“The study, conducted by the NHRC as reflected in the monograph, suggests that there are two primary causes for jail suicides — the first is the environment in the jail, which is apparently “conducive” to suicidal behaviour, and the second is the crisis situation faced by an inmate,” the Supreme Court said.
It ordered the states to use the help of support persons or counsellors to advise prisoners who show violent or suicidal tendencies.
“While visits to the prison by the family of a prisoner should be encouraged, it would be worthwhile to consider extending the time or frequency of meetings and explore the possibility of using phones and video conferencing not only between a prisoner and family members, but also between a prisoner and the lawyer,” it added.
It also called upon the state legal services authorities to carry out a study “of the overall conditions in prisons in the state and the facilities available”. This should also “include a performance audit of the prisons…” said the court.
The court noted that the explanation provided by the NCRB as to what constituted unnatural deaths in prison was not satisfactory and asked the Ministry of Home to take steps to remedy this. Amicus Curiae advocate Gaurav Agarwal had suggested that states must be encouraged to establish open jails. The court found the suggestion “certainly worth considering”.
The order regretted that there was no data on children who had died in child care homes in the country and asked the Ministry of Women and Child Development to do the needful in this regard.