Why in the news Model Prisons Act 2023?

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has prepared the ‘Model Prisons Act 2023’ that will replace the almost 130 years old law ‘The Prisons Act of 1894’.

More about the news:

Along with ‘The Prisons Act, 1894’, ‘The Prisoners Act, 1900’ and ‘The Transfer of Prisoners Act, 1950’ have also been reviewing by the Ministry of Home Affairs and relevant provisions of these Acts have been assimilates in the ‘Model Prisons Act, 2023.’

About Model Prisons Act 1894:

The present ‘Prisons Act, 1894’ is a pre-independence era Act and is almost 130 years old. The Act mainly focuses on keeping the criminals in custody and enforcement of discipline and order in prisons. There is no provision for reform and rehabilitation of prisoners in the existing Act. Some provisions of the act are as follows:

  • The Prisons Act of 1894 was the first piece of law in India that regulated the operation and management of prisons.
  • Lord Macaulay formed the “Prison Discipline Committee” in 1836, and their suggestions served as the basis for the Act.
  • It excluded police custody and subsidiary jails and defined a “prison” as “any jail or place used permanently or temporarily for the detention of prisoners.” It also outlined rules for the visits, jobs, and health of the convicts.
  • MHA discovered a number of issues with the Act and saw a notable lack of focus on corrective actions.
  • The Model Act 2023 is the result of its directive to the Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D) to analyze the existing laws and create a new draft.

What does the Constitution say?

  • As per the provisions of Constitution of India, ‘prisons’/ ‘persons detained therein’ is a ‘State’ subject. The responsibility of prison management and prisoners administration solely vests with State Governments who alone are competent to make appropriate legislative provisions in this regard. However, given the critical role that efficient prison management plays in the criminal justice system, the Government of India attaches high degree of importance to supporting the States/UTs in this regard.

Thus, the Model Act “may serve as a guiding document for the States”.

Need for reforming the Model Prisons Act:

  • To transform prisons into institutions of reform: the Prisons Act of 1894 made “no provision for reform and rehabilitation of prisoners,” instead focusing on the imprisonment of offenders and the enforcement of discipline and order within prisons. Prisons now regarding as “correctional and reformative institutions.”
  • Colonial hangover: Because India’s jail system was establish by the British to control political inmates, it is vulnerable to misuse. Though solely for male inmates, the Act allows to “whipping, provided that the number of stripes shall not exceed thirty.”
  • To provide inmates with improved living conditions, jails must be made more technologically advanced, contemporary, and equipped with strict security measures.
  • In order to assist inmates in reintegrating into society, it is also necessary to establish improved housing and healthcare facilities, libraries, and training programs.
  • Murders and violence within jails: Murders and gang-related violence have happened inside prisons.

Issues faced by Model Prisons Act:

  • High undertrials: According to the Prison Statistics of India 2021, about 77% of prisoners are undertrials. Additionally, 25% of this jail population is listed as illiterate in the same data set.
  • High jail occupancy rate: According to NCRB data from 2021, there were 5,54,034 inmates nationwide in prisons, compared to a capacity of 4,25,609. Delhi’s prison occupancy rate was 183%.
  • Difficulty getting bail: Prolonged imprisonment is caused by delays in the adjudication process, a lack of assistance for bail application filings, or an inability to adhere to bail requirements in the bail system.
    • In order to expedite the bail-granting procedure, the Supreme Court instructed the Union government to take into consideration enacting a separate bail statute.
  • Unfilled posts for jail officials: More than 60% of officer positions were unfilled in Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, and Jharkhand. This puts more work on the police and contributes to bad jail administration, which includes crimes inside the prison system.
  • Unnatural deaths in prisons: 150 prisoners committed suicide in 2021, accounting for 185 unnatural deaths of prisoners, according to the Prison Statistics of India 2021.
Salient features of the new Model Prisons Act:
  1. Provision for security assessment and segregation of prisoners, individual sentence planning,
  2. Grievance redressal, prison development board, attitudinal change towards prisoners.
  3. Provision of separate accommodation for women prisoners, transgender, etc.
  4. Provision for use of technology in prison administration with a view to bring transparency in prison administration.
  5. Provision for video conferencing with courts, scientific and technological interventions in prisons, etc.
  6. Provision of punishment for prisoners and jail staff for use of prohibited items like mobile phones etc. in jails.
  7. Provision regarding establishment and management of high security jail, open jail (open and semi open), etc.
  8. Provision for protecting the society from the criminal activities of hardened criminals and habitual offenders, etc.
  9. Provision for legal aid to prisoners, provision of parole, furlough and premature release etc. to incentivise good conduct.
  10. Focus on vocational training and skill development of prisoners and their reintegration into the society.


Suggestions to reform prisons:
  • Three general guidelines for custody and incarceration have been established by the Supreme Court and will be adhered to:
    • To start, a person incarcerated does not cease to exist.
    • Secondly, a prisoner has the full range of human rights when confined, subject to some restrictions.
    • Third, there’s no excuse for adding to the pain that the jail process already causes.
  • Laxer bail requirements: Section 436A of the CrPC states that an individual who has been detained for half the maximum amount of time—apart from the death penalty—may be released on bail, with or without sureties.
  • Faster resolution of bail cases: The supreme court mandated the prompt resolution of bail applications in Hussain and Anr. v. Union of India (2017), based on the idea that bail should be the rule rather than the exception.
  • Mulla Committee: Justice A. N. Mulla chaired the Committee on Jail Reforms, which the Indian government established in 1980. Among the Mulla committee’s well-known recommendations are: o Appropriate training and cadre organisation for prison employees. establishing the Indian Prisons & Correctional Service, an all-Indian service.
    • Probation, aftercare, and rehabilitation should be essential components of jail work.
    • Periodically, the public and media will be permitted access to prisons and affiliated penal facilities.
    • The number of undertrials in prisons should be maintained to a minimum and separated from the criminal population.


In the last few decades, an altogether new perspective has evolved about prisons and prison inmates, globally. Prisons today are not looked as places of retributive deterrence but are considered as reformative and correctional institutions where the prisoners are transformed and rehabilitated back into society as law abiding citizens.

The above Model act would help in making this transition.

Source: PIB