The Prisons Act 1894 is one of the stringent legislative enactments of the Parliament dealing with prisons in India. The Parliament enacted the Act on 22 March 1894, and it came into force on 1 July 1894. The Act aims to set rules for the smooth regulation of prisons in India and plan for the rehabilitation and reformation of prisoners.
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The Prisons Act, 1894
The Prisons Act of 1894 was enacted to focus on the most overlooked concerns in India, that is, prisons and prisoners. Before the Act, loopholes in the Indian legislation deprived the prisoners of their fundamental rights. The Constitution of India grants equal rights and protection to all citizens, regardless of whether or not they are wrongdoers.
Prisoners are kept in inhumane conditions with inadequate food, unhealthy sanitary conditions, limited clothing and bedding facilities. The objective of imprisonment in India is to reform and rehabilitate prisoners and prevent them from committing any further crime. Instead, these prisoners are kept like animals in zoos.
Critical Analysis of the Act
The Act has a total of 62 sections divided into XII Chapters. The Act is exhaustive and includes all the laws relating to maintaining prisons in India and prisoners in jail. The structure of the Act is as follows:
Chapter I – Preliminary
Chapter II – Maintenance and Officers of Prison
Chapter III – Duties of Officers
Chapter IV – Admission and Removal and Discharge of Prisoners
Chapter V – Discipline of Prisoners
Chapter VI – Food, Bedding, and Clothing of Civil and Unconvicted Criminal Prisoners
Chapter VII – Employment of Prisoners
Chapter VIII – Health of Prisoners
Chapter IX – Visits to Prisoners
Chapter X – Offences Concerning Prisoners
Chapter XI – Prison Offences
Chapter XII – Miscellaneous
Maintenance of officers of the prison
According to Section 4 of the Act, the State Government is to regulate the Accommodation of Prisoners in the prison.
Per Section 5, the Appropriate Government will appoint an Inspector General to have general control and superintendence of the Prisons situated within the territory of the Government.
Section 6 provides that every prison shall have a Superintendent, a Medical Subordinate, a Medical Officer, a jailer and other officers as the State Government may prescribe.
Section 7 provides that the Inspector General may provide shelter and safe custody to the prisoners outside the prison on the following grounds and on the recommendation of the State Government:
- If the Inspector General thinks that the number of prisoners in the prison is more than can be conveniently and safely kept.
- When there is an outbreak of epidemic or disease.
- For other sufficient reasons, that may require relocation of some prisoners.
Duties of Officers
Chapter III ranges from Sections 8 to 23, which speaks of the duties of the Superintendent, Medical Officers, Jailer, and Subordinate Officers.
The Superintendent (Sections 11-12)
Per Section 11, the Superintendent will be in charge of discipline, expenditure, labour, punishment, and control over the prison. The Superintendent shall be subject to the orders of the Inspector General.
Duties of the Superintendent
Section 12 provides that the Superintendent must maintain the following records:
- Register containing the details of prisoners admitted in the prison.
- A book consisting of details of the release of each of such prisoners.
- A punishment book containing the punishments inflicted on each of the prisoners.
- Visitor’s book containing observations by the visitor on the administration of prison and other connected matters.
- Record containing the articles and finances seized from the prisoners.
Medical Officer (Sections 13-15)
Per Section 13, the duties of the Medical Officer include the sanitary administration of the prison and other duties as the State Government may prescribe.
Duties of the Medical Officer
Section 14 states that the Medical Officer shall oversee the wellness of prisoners. In case the officer notices that the prisoner’s mind is adversely affected/injured by the treatment the prisoner is facing in prison, then the prisoner shall report the same observation to the Superintendent. The Superintendent shall forward this report of the Medical Officer along with his report to the Inspector General.
Section 15 deals with the death of a prisoner. This provision imposes a duty upon the Medical Officer to record the following details in a register in case a prisoner dies within the prison.
- Day on which the deceased informed of his illness
- Labour or task in which he was engaged on the date of his death
- Diet for that particular day
- Day on which the prisoner was admitted to the hospital
- Day on which the Medical Officer was intimated of such illness
- Nature of disease
- When the deceased was last seen by the Medical Officer or Medical Subordinate prior to his death
- When the prisoner died
- In the case of post-mortem, a report of the appearances after the death and special remarks on the cause of death.
Jailer (Sections 16-20)
Per Section 16, the Jailer will reside in the prison and shall not reside elsewhere without the Superintendent’s permission in writing. He should not engage in any other employment without written sanction from the Inspector General.
Duties of a Jailer
Section 17 of the Act imposes a duty on the jailor to immediately send a notification regarding the death of any prisoner to the Superintendent and the Medical Subordinate.
Section 18 states that the Jailer shall be liable for the safe custody of all the records in the prison, including commitment warrants, other documents confided to his care, and the finances and other articles taken from prisoners.
Section 19 requires the Jailer to stay in the prison at night and remain present with the Superintendent’s written permission.
Section 20 provides for the power of the Deputy and Assistant Jailer.
Subordinate Officers (Sections 21-23) and their duties
Section 21 states that any officer acting as a gatekeeper has the duty:
- To examine anything carried inside or outside the prison house
- To stop or search any person likely to bring any prohibited article into or out of the prison
- To stop any person from carrying out any property belonging to the prison.
Section 22 mandates that the officers Subordinate to the Jailer shall be present with leave from the Superintendent or the Jailer.
Admission, Removal, and Discharge of Prisoners
Chapter IV, ranging from Sections 24–26, provides the following provisions:
- Per Section 24, whenever a prisoner is admitted to jail, all weapons and articles shall be seized, and body search to be conducted. The prisoner shall also be subjected to a medical examination by the Medical Officer, who will enter details of the prisoner’s health and any visible marks of injuries on his/her body in a book of records. The Jailer will maintain such records.
- Section 25 states that any weapon or article that may be taken into the prison by the prisoner or sent outside by him shall be kept in the custody of the Jailer.
- Section 26 mandates the medical reexamination of a prisoner before he/she is transferred from one prison to another or is discharged.
Rights of Prisoners under the Act
Several rights are granted to a prisoner under the Prisons Act of 1894. Some of the rights are as follows:
- Section 27 provides that the unconvicted criminal prisoners shall be kept away from convicted criminal prisoners. Civil prisoners are to be kept apart from criminal prisoners. This division is based on the reformative theory of the criminal justice system.
- According to Section 31, a civil prisoner shall have the right to maintain himself and buy or receive from private sources at proper hours food, clothing, bedding or other necessities.
- Section 33 provides that if any prisoner cannot maintain himself, then the Superintendent shall supply all the basic amenities such as clothing and bedding to such a prisoner.
- Section 35 reveals that a prisoner shall not be subject to labour for more than 9 hours a day.
- Section 37 provides that a prisoner shall have the right to consult a medical subordinate in case of any illness without any delay.
Offences under this Act
Section 45 provides the guides for dealing with certain kinds of prison offences that may be committed by the prisoners:
- Assault or use of criminal force
- Wilful disobedience to any regulation
- Use of insulting or threatening words
- Immoral or indecent behaviour
- Wilfully abstaining from his labour
- Cutting, altering, or removing handcuffs
- Wilfully damaging prison property
- Feigning illness
- Receiving, possessing, or transferring any prohibited article
- Tampering any evidence
The Prisons Act 1894 contains all the relevant provisions relating to prison and prisoners. The Act upholds and protects prisoners’ rights, thereby setting a landmark for society to treat a person with dignity and respect even though such a person is an offender.
FAQs on The Prisons Act 1894
What is the Prisons Act, and why was it enacted?
The Prisons Act of 1894 is a legislative enactment that regulates the functioning of prisons in India. It was enacted in 1894 during British colonial rule.
When was the Prisons Act enacted and enforced?
The Act was enacted on 22 March 1894 and was subsequently enforced on 1 July 1894.
What are the key provisions regarding the classification of prisoners under this Act?
The Prisons Act of 1894 classifies prisoners into three categories, namely civil prisoners, criminal prisoners, and habitual offenders. The Act lays down procedures regarding the maintenance of such prisoners in the prison, the rights of such persons, and the duties of officers of the prison.
What are the rights of prisoners as per the Prisons Act of 1894?
The Act outlines certain rights and privileges for prisoners, such as provisions for medical care, visitation, and communication with the outside world. The Act also sets standards for the conditions of imprisonment.
How does the Prisons Act of 1894 address the issue of prison discipline and punishment?
The Act outlines rules for maintaining discipline within prisons and provides guidelines for punishing prisoners who violate prison rules or engage in misconduct. Section 45 categorically details specific offences that the prisoners may commit and provides punishment for such offences.