Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners
Written by Yash Tripathi
Second Year, Gujarat National Law University
Disclaimer: Please note that the views expressed below represent the opinions of the article's author. The following does not necessarily represent the views of Law & Order.
It is not difficult to understand that whenever human beings have tried to identify themselves with any other aspect rather than humanity, they have committed crimes. The identification can be in terms of religion, caste, creed, colour, ethnicity, or nationality. There are offenses committed in nations that can be scaled from petty to severe. For these offenses, punishments are defined in the law of those nations.
Here it becomes very important to acknowledge the fact that prisoners and criminals are also human beings, and have committed crimes because of various factors and circumstances surrounding them. Therefore to highlight this point, minimum standards for the treatment of prisoners have been acknowledged internationally. There are several international conventions and laws which give rights to prisoners and such rights have also been recognized by states.
The rights of prisoners were globally promoted with the international movement for the protection, promotion, and recognition of certain basic human rights. There were no clear provisions for prisoners in particular international treaties and instruments. Although the movement was for the protection of basic human rights and these rights should also be for prisoners.
History is full of instances of atrocities on prisoners. World War ⅠⅠ led to many war prisoners and thus there arose a concern for the human rights of prisoners by the United Nations. The issue of human rights was placed as an International Agenda by the United Nations Charters. “The post-World War era is rightly termed as the human rights era.” This was a reaction towards the large scale human rights violations which the world had faced due to the Nazi activities. Fascists had led the concept of limited state sovereignty and thus laid down certain international customary practices for the standard treatment. It can be said that:
“The existence of these laws and customs has led to the universal recognition of a minimum standard of treatment due to all persons”. These are the minimum rights given to the prisoners and are so fundamental that there should be no alteration and derogation of these rights.
The United Nation Standard Minimum Rules for The Treatment of Prisoners
The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners got adopted in 1955 by the United Nations Congress. The Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders provides another source of international protection of prisoners' rights. These rules have been accepted by states and they have a common consensus on it. As the legal systems of different states vary from each other, the application of all the rules provided in the same manner is not possible at all times. In lieu of these conditions, it becomes very important for the states to understand the substantive value of the principles laid down, and states should endeavor to at least follow minimum rules and maintain the substance of the principles provided.
There are many states which have adopted these principles and some for the convenience have also drafted rules regarding the principles. One such example is Europe. "Europe’s Council of Standard Minimum Rules, which was adopted by the Committee of Ministers as regional guidelines in 1973, include such new provisions as the forbiddance of injurious punishment, and the creation of contracts outside the penal institutions to protect prisoners' rights either through judicial supervision or through a permanent visiting body.”
Division of Minimum Standard Rules
“The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners has been divided into two parts.”
The first part deals with Rules for general application and covers the essential aspect of imprisonment necessary to make the prison an institution that can bring change in the criminal attitude of prisoners. Part two covers the special categories of prisoners.
Rules of General Application
Classification of Prisoners: As the prisons are for correction of prisoners, it is important to have well-organized prisons where prisoners have been segregated on the basis of some scientific standards. Rule number 8 of Rules of General Application states that the different categories of prisoners should be kept in separate institutions taking into consideration their sex, age, criminal record, the legal reason for their detention, and the necessities of their treatment. Further men and women, unconvicted and convicted prisoners, civil prisoners and criminal offenders, young prisoners, and adults are to be separated from each other. This much separation is necessary to successfully execute the purpose of having prisons for persons who have committed wrongs.
Accommodation: There should be basic accommodation facilities to fulfill the basic human needs. If the sleeping facility is being provided in particular cells or rooms, they should be occupied by the prisoners to whom they have been allotted. If there is a dormitory facility then it is to be carefully assigned to the individual prisoners considering the basic comfort issues. The place of accommodation should have been designed such that the prisoners don’t have to face problems regarding climatic conditions and it should meet all health requirements. There should be no blockage to fresh air and light and for this purpose, sufficiently large windows should be constructed. If any prisoner wants to read and work then this should also be considered and they should be provided artificial lights as per their comfort for work and reading.
Personal Hygiene: Keeping the climatic condition of the place in mind, the facility to maintain the personal hygiene of the prisoners should also be provided. There should be showers and taps to be installed for bathing and every prisoner may be required to have a bath as frequently as necessary for general hygiene keeping the climatic conditions in view. Prisoners are also to be provided with sufficient water and toilet articles for maintaining their hygiene. Cleanliness, comfort, and hygiene regarding uniforms and bedding of prisoners should also be maintained. Proper facilities for the cleaning of uniforms should be provided. Beddings also should be properly cleaned for the maintenance of hygiene and cleanliness.
Food: Every prisoner should be provided with quality food from time to time. Drinking water should also be provided to the prisoners.
Exercise and Sport: Every prisoner should be provided one hour for their daily exercise in the fresh air and for prison sports facilities should also be maintained.
Medical Services: There should be at least one medical officer in every prison who should also be having at least some knowledge of psychiatry. There should be adequate facilities regarding instruments and qualified staff in prisons. If any prisoner requires special treatment then he should be transferred to civil hospitals. A proper facility for pregnant women is to be made inside the prison hospital and if a baby was born in the prison, the particular thing shouldn’t be mentioned in his/ her birth certificate.
The medical staff of prison should also take note of the contagious disease and if any prisoner is suffering from that he must be segregated. If an infant is living with the mother prisoner then the proper facility should be made for that. There should be regular check-ups for the physical and mental health of the prisoners.
Discipline and punishment: Discipline should be maintained in the prison. A prisoner shall be punished only in the conformity with law of the land. Use of Handcuffs, Chains, Strait Jackets is prohibited. The complaints made by and made against co-prisoners should be dealt with carefully to maintain discipline in the prisons. Also, a well trained and qualified officer should be appointed as a prison administrator.
Contact with the outside world: Complying with the law of the country, the prisoner should be allowed to meet his family members and friends. They should also be provided news of the outside world by means of newspapers, TV or by other means. There should be a library in each of such institutions. As there is a restriction on the movement of prisoners to the outside world, adequate facilities should be made for them to practice their religion.
Death, Illness, transfer: The spouse of the prisoner or nearest living relative should be informed of the death or of any serious illness the prisoner is suffering from. In the same form the prisoner should also be informed of the death or serious illness of a spouse or some close relative.
Inspection: A inspector should be appointed by competent authorities for the regular inspections of the prison institutions. Their job is to check whether prisons are working as per law given for them and as per the regulations and with a view to bringing about the objectives of penal and correctional services.
The rules which are mentioned above are not created to describe a detailed model system of a penal institution. These rules just seek to set out what is generally accepted as being good principles and practice in the treatment of prisoners. The aim of these rules is to stimulate a constant endeavor to provide basic fundamental rights to the prisoners and also to help in the creation of a rehabilitative atmosphere in which prisoners can evolve and realize the illegality of the act they have committed. The states in the world are different on the basis of their legal, social, economic and geographical conditions and thus these general rules are not applicable in all the places and at all the times, but then also it provides a model and encourages states to make such rules and hence it can be said that these rules have been able to achieve their real aim.
Indian Laws for Prisoners
“The rights mentioned in Part III of the Constitution of India are applicable and are available to prisoners in the same way as they are for normal persons and citizens.”
Article 14 states that like should be treated alike, and also provides the concept of reasonable classification. This article provides the basis for prison authorities to determine various categories of prisoners and their classification with the object of reformation. Indian constitution guarantees six freedoms to citizens of India, among which certain freedoms cannot be enjoyed by the prisoners. They are freedom of movement, freedom to a residence and to settle and freedom of profession. But other freedoms conferred in this article are enjoyed by the prisoners. Moreover, the Constitution provides various other provisions though it cannot directly be called prisoners’ rights but may be relevant. Among them are Article 20(Protection in respect of conviction for offenses), Article 21(Right to life and personal liberty) and Article 22(Right against arrest and detention in certain cases).
There are also some enactments made by the government for the betterment of prisoners.
1. The Prisons Act, 1894
This Act is the first legislation regarding prison regulation in India. The following are some of the important provisions regarding prisoner’s rights:
● Accommodation and sanitary conditions for prisoners.
● Provisions relating to the mental and physical state of prisoners.
● Examination of prisoners by qualified medical officers.
● Separation of prisoners for male, female, criminal, civil, convicted, and under trial prisoners.
● Provisions for treatment of undertrials, civil prisoners, parole, and temporary release of prisoners.
2. The Prisoners Act, 1990
It is the duty of the government for the removal of any prisoner detained under any order or sentence of any court, which if of unsound mind to a lunatic asylum and another place where he will be given proper treatment. Any court which is a high court may in the case in which it has recommended to the government the granting of a free pardon to any prisoner, permit him to be at liberty on his own cognizance.
3. The Transfer of Prisoners Act, 1950
This act was enacted for the transfer of prisoners from one state to another for rehabilitation or vocational training and from overpopulated jails to less congested jails within the state.
4. The Prisoners (Attendance in Courts) Act, 1955
This Act contains provisions authorizing the removal of prisoners to a civil or criminal court for giving evidence or for answering to the charge of an offense.
While discussing the policies of prison reform, the government should consider all the factors which provide fundamental human rights to prisoners. The government has done a good job regarding factors such as education and imparting training to the prisoners but the government has miserably failed while considering factors such as cleanliness, overcrowding, hygiene, and quality food.
In the case of Manna V. People of Illinois, the Supreme Court of U.S. Stated that:
“Human life is not merely animal existence.”
This statement applies to prisoners also in the same way as it applies to other non-prisoners. Fundamental rights have been given to prisoners also and they are not to be distorted by state authorities. A prisoner gets influenced and affected by many factors and there can be a variety of reasons for a person committing a crime and just because one has committed crime, it can’t be said that one has ceased to be a human. Prisoners also enjoy rights but with some restrictions, to make them realize that they have done a criminal act and to felicitate their reformation. Thus, courts have an important role to play whenever there is a breach of the affirmed rights given to prisoners, Courts should do their sacred duty of being a custodian and guardian of fundamental rights. So, prisoners should also enjoy their basic human rights and there should be institutions or an established framework to check that prisoners are not being devoid of their rights.
 Bhagawati, Inaugural address: in Tandon, M.P, (ed), International LawSeminar on Human Rights, Allahabad: The Allahabad Polytechnic 1980, at 7.  Alessandra, Prisoners right of Access to the court: A Comparative Analysis of Human Right Jurisprudence in Europe and the United States, 13 J. INTL' L & ECON 1, (1978) at 1.  id  AK.Sen, The Universal Declaration of Human rights in Venkataramaiah, Justice E.S (ed) Human Rights in The Changing world, New Delhi International Law Association, 1988, at 255.  G.Tunkin, Theory of International Law 10 (1974)  T.S.Rama Rao, Human Rights- Problems of developing Countries at 188.  Sohn, the International Law of Human Rights: A Reply to recent criticism, of HOFSTRA L.REV. 347, 349 (1981)  Id.  Approved by the Economic and Social Council by its Resolution 663c (XXIV) of 31 July 1957 and later endorsed by the General Assembly in two resolutions in 1971 and 1973, G.A.Res.2858, 26 UN, GAOR (Supp.No.29) 94, U.N.DOC A/8588 (1971) and G.A Res 3144, 28, U.N.GAOR Supp (No.30) 85, U.N.DOC. A 9425 (1973).  U.N. Year Book on Human rights 1951-52.  D.L Skoler, World Implementation of the U.N. Standard Minimum Rules For Treatment of Prisoners, 10 J. INT'L and ECON, 453.  Kleinig, J., 2014. Prisoners' Rights. 1st ed. Ashgate Publications, p.394.  Id.  Article 14, The Constitution of India, 1950.  Manna V. People of Illinois 48 Ill. App.2d 114 (1964) BIBLIOGRAPHY
1. AK.Sen, The Universal Declaration of Human rights in Venkataramaiah, Justice E.S (ed) Human Rights in The Changing world, New Delhi International Law Association, 1988, at 255.
2. Alessandra, Prisoners right of Access to the court: A Comparative Analysis of Human Right Jurisprudence in Europe and the United States, 13 J. INTL' L & ECON 1, (1978) at 1.
3. Approved by the Economic and Social Council by its Resolution 663c (XXIV) of 31 July 1957 and later endorsed by the General Assembly in two resolutions in 1971 and 1973, G.A.Res.2858, 26 UN, GAOR (Supp.No.29) 94, U.N.DOC A/8588 (1971) and G.A Res 3144, 28, U.N.GAOR Supp (No.30) 85, U.N.DOC. A 9425 (1973). 4. Article 14, The Constitution of India, 1950
5. Bhagawati, Inaugural address: in Tandon, M.P, (ed), International LawSeminar on Human Rights, Allahabad: The Allahabad Polytechnic 1980, at 7.
6. D.L Skoler, World Implementation of the U.N. Standard Minimum Rules For Treatment of Prisoners, 10 J. INT'L and ECON, 453.
7. G.Tunkin, Theory of International Law 10 (1974).
8. Kleinig, J., 2014. Prisoners' Rights. 1st ed. Ashgate Publications, p.394
9. Manna V. People of Illinois 48 Ill. App.2d 114 (1964)
10. Sohn, the International Law of Human Rights: A Reply to recent criticism, of HOFSTRA L.REV. 347, 349 (1981)
11. T.S.Rama Rao, Human Rights- Problems of developing Countries at 188.
12. U.N. Year Book on Human rights 1951-52.