The number of inmates in prisons across India grew 1.5%, from 4,81,387 to 4,88,51 in 2020, according to the second edition of the India Justice Report. The annual increase in numbers of prisoners in 2020 was particularly worrying as it resulted in violation of physical distancing norms amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The report noted that the crowding in Indian jails was largely accounted for by undertrial prisoners.

“Their share has increased from 69% in December 2019 to 76% in December 2020,” the report said. It added that for every adding that for every convicted prisoner, there were three people in custody awaiting investigation, inquiry or trial.

The report analysed the data from the Prison Statistics India, 2020, that had been released by the National Crime Records Bureau. The data ranged from January 2020 to December 2020.

A break up of prisoner statistics based on their demography and status of their trial. (Source: India Justice Report, 2020)

The report noted a significant decline in prisoners’ access to courts during the first year of the pandemic. Visits to courts by prisoners reduced from 44.5 lakhs in 2019 to 15.5 lakhs in 2020 – a decline of nearly 65%, according to the report.

The report highlighted a deterioration in access to health services also, as prisoners made 3.63 lakh visits to medical facilities, a decline of 24% from 4.77 lakh in 2019.

Source: India Justice Report, 2020

The report also flagged a shortage of medical staff and officers in prison continues across the country.

“Nationally, vacancies among medical staff and officers stand at about 33%, which means one in every three posts has not been filled,” it said.

On an average, each medical officer was looking after 613 inmates. The Model Prison Manual, forumlated by the Union home ministry in 2016 mandates one medical officer for every 300 inmates, the report noted.

Maju Daurwala, the chief editor of the report said that it presented a grim picture of the state of prisons during the pandemic.

“Despite the many efforts to decongest these institutions, and minimise the risks of contagion inherent in these overcrowded places, their overall condition has not improved,” Daurwala said in a press release.