New Delhi: Undignified body searches, absence of proper health and hygiene facilities for female prisoners, inadequate staff, overcrowding and racism are some of the issues afflicting prisons in Haryana, a study by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) and Haryana State Legal Services Authority has revealed.
Overall, the study, which covered 19,062 prisoners in 19 prisons, found that the state possessed “sound infrastructure,” and “regular maintenance and basic cleanliness” was seen almost everywhere.
The report, titled ‘Inside Haryana Prisons’, was prepared following an interaction by the CHRI team with 475 prisoners, prison officials and representatives of legal services institutions between December 2017 and May 2018.
The study found that none of the prisons were “dingy, dirty, dilapidated hell-holes that one might visualise them to be.” Also, there were no complaints of sub-standard conditions or unhygienic food.
However, it was on the logistics and management front that the jails were found lacking.
The report stated that of the 19 jails in Haryana, three were central jails while the others were district jails.
Overcrowding, inadequate staff big problem areas
Of these jails, 11 were found to be suffering from overcrowding. These included the central jails of Ambala and Hisar 1 and the district jails of Rewari, Kurukshetra, Kaithal, Sirsa, Jind, Panipat, Narnaul and Bhiwani. Overcrowding percentage ranged from 170% in Rewari to 22.8% in Panipat.
While on the one hand, the number of prisoners was more than ideal, almost all the jails were found to be suffering from inadequate staffing levels. “Data received from 18 jails showed that against 3,193 sanctioned posts, there is an overall staff vacancy of almost 20%. Gurugram and Faridabad district prisons had the highest staff vacancy at almost 44%,” the report stated.
Prison regime not uniform
Prison regime refers to the timetable that regulates the day-to-day routine of inmates. The report found that in Haryana prisons, a uniform practice of segregation among young offenders and other prisoners, especially habitual prisoners, is missing.
Also, when it comes to body searches, there are “no guidelines in place to safeguard the dignity of prisoners”. In one prison, it said, the inmates told the team about their discomfort during a surprise search conducted for seizing contraband mobile phones.
The report also found that while the prison department provides prisoners with basic utensils, there is no provision for oil or soap, which are to be sourced through canteens or from family members. So prisoners with no money or visiting family members have to resort to working for other prisoners to get these highly basic amenities.
Medical reports do not mention injuries
When it came to a medical examination at the time of admission, the study said it came across some complaints where prisoners alleged that their medical reports had not mentioned injuries present and visible on their bodies. “This subverts the very purpose of conducting these medical examinations, and is an issue that needs immediate redressal,” the report said.
In the absence of specialists, medical officers overworked
It also added that while medical officers in some prisons claimed to be attending to 80-100 out-patient cases daily, which was impacting the attention to each, most jails did not have specialised doctors such as dentists, gynaecologists, dermatologists, psychiatrists and psychologists. There was also an insufficient or incomplete supply of medicines.
No Aadhaar, no meeting with relatives
The study also revealed that some prisoners were unable to meet their families because Aadhaar cards have been made mandatory identification proof for visitors, and people without these are not allowed to visit prisons.
E-initiatives proving counter-productive
It also discovered that while as per the Haryana Prison Manual, all prisoners are to be provided with a history ticket upon admission, which provides them with the status and details of their case, due to the implementation of the prison management system, the history tickets were now only available on computers. As such, prisoners were not being given physical copies.
“Because of this, prisoners often have no access to the details of their case, and their primary source of information becomes now their family or lawyers, who may not meet them very often,” the report said.
Also, it said, while ‘E-history kiosks’ have been set up in all 19 prisons, prisoners had limited awareness of their usage. Often, these also suffered from technical glitches and remained dysfunctional for days at a stretch.
20% of prisoners do not even have a lawyer
While all prisons have convict and community paralegals to man the legal aid clinics and 343 legal awareness camps were conducted by legal services authorities in 2017 alone, the study revealed that 90 out of the 475 inmates interviewed did not have a lawyer.
“All prisons have jail legal aid clinics, with jail visiting lawyers and paralegals. Even in their presence, some prisoners remain unrepresented,” it said.
No provision of sanitary pads for women in Karnal jail
In Haryana, the report said, there was no exclusive prison for women. “Of the 19, only 15 prisons have women enclosures, and they house 659 women prisoners (as of December 2017). The women prisoner proportion in Haryana is 6%, which is slightly higher than the national average of 4.3%.”
The study also found that there were no permanent lady doctors in any of the prisons. And in Karnal district jail, it pointed to how women were not being provided sanitary napkins, which is a major item for personal hygiene.
Not one psychiatrist for 42 inmates with mental illness
The study also revealed that while there were 44 prisoners with mental illness in three jails – 42 of them being in Gurugram – no psychiatrists were visiting the facilities. Moreover, with no permanent position for full-time psychologists or psychiatrists in jail hospitals, medical officers were being forced to deal with these cases.
The report noted how these medical officers spoke to the team about the need for specialised caregivers, counsellors and mental health professionals.
Foreign prisoners face racism, discrimination
When it came to foreign national prisoners (FNPs), the study said there were 48 of them in ten prisons and many of them complained of racism and discrimination. Of these, 32 were undertrials, 15 were convicts and one a detenu, who has completed his sentence. Most of these prisoners were from Bangladesh, Nepal and African countries.
Of them, only six have been provided consular access. Also, five of them were found not represented by any lawyer. Also, 28 of them were found not in contact with their families. “Despite the Prison Inmate Calling System (PICS), FNPs are not permitted to make international calls to their relatives.”
“Additionally, some prisoners also expressed concern over the inadequacy of the diet provided to them, despite provisions for special diets for FNPs in the Haryana Jail Manual,” the report said, adding that “some prisoners also complained about suffering from discrimination and racism at the hands of other prisoners.”
In view of its findings, the CHRI also recommended that the state government revise the Haryana Jail Manual, check overcrowding rates, improve quality of training for prison officers and warders, revisit staff vacancies, set up more women prisons, have sharper focus on mental healthcare, revisit procurement policy for medicines and frame a policy for ensuring communication with family members for foreign national prisoners.