Union Law Minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad, recently suggested that women prisoners who have spent one-quarter of their sentence as an undertrial should get bail. Prasad was heading 17th all India meet of the State Legal Services Authorities with several lawyers and judges where he made the recommendation.

He referred to section 436A of the Code of Criminal Procedure and said that in 50 percent cases, the accused spends the entire period of sentence for the offense as undertrial prisoner. “I would recommend that if a woman prisoner has spent 25 percent of her sentence period as a trial prisoner, she should be immediately released,” he said, TOI reported.

Section 436A allows release on the bond to an undertrial prisoner who has been in prison for half the period of the maximum sentence for the offence. It also offers review committees headed by district judges to examine such cases where under-trials are languishing in jail. “The review committee needs to work more effectively. There is a need to further reinforce the implementation of this provision,” Prasad said.

I would recommend that if a woman prisoner has spent 25 percent of her sentence period as a trial prisoner, she should be immediately released. – Union Law Minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad

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Prisoners need to be educated about their rights

Journalist Sunetra Choudhury, who wrote the book Behind Bars, which chronicles the lives of prisoners in Indian jails, has welcomed the suggestion made by the Law Minister. Speaking to SheThePeople.TV she says, “My only concern is that I hope women prisoners get to know about this. The biggest challenge remains that, even if our laws are enabling, the jails are a world of their own. And since most of the men and women who end up in jail are very poor and uneducated, these initiatives and efforts never reach down to them who need it the most. There have been several Supreme Court judgments that say that the jail authorities have to educate prisoners about their rights but that’s not done.”

Often women prisoners have to just stay inside jails because they don’t even have 500 rupees to file for bail, reveals Choudhury, the National Political Editor of Hindustan Times. She further adds, “Prisoners also feel demotivated to come out of jails because, many times, there is no one waiting for them outside for them. They also feel that however bad the jail food may be, at least they are getting three meals a day and a place to lodge, so it is a deeply-entrenched issue that has several layers.”

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The biggest challenge remains that, even if our laws are enabling, the jails are a world of their own. And since most of the men and women, who end up in jail are very poor and uneducated, these initiatives and efforts never reach down to them who need it the most. – Sunetra Choudhury

As per a 2015 report from National Crime Bureau Record (NCRB), there are a total of 1,401 jails in india, of which only 18 are for women. While the total capacity of these women jails is to lodge 4,748 prisoners, they are severely overcrowded with a total of 17,834 women inmates. Of these 17,834 prisoners, only 5,740 prisoners got convicted while 11,916 remained undertrials. The 178 women inmates, who were neither convicted nor undertrial, comprised of 72 detainees and 106 other prisoners.

Apart from the issue of undertrial prisoners, Law minister Prasad also raised an alarm on the number of pending criminal appeals, seeking fast-track hearing of cases which are pending for ten years or more.

Picture credit- Hindustan Times

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