In the making of this report, widespread deliberations and extensive consultations were held by the MWCD with all relevant stakeholders for the purpose of this study. The officials of MWCD visited 5 prisons across NCR in September and October 2017 to understand the various issues faced by women and children in prisons. This was followed by a round of wide-ranging consultations with NCW, BPR&D, DIG Prisons, Delhi and select civil society organisations and representatives specialising in the subject.
In addition to this, MWCD commissioned National Law University, Delhi to undertake a comprehensive review of Prison Manuals and International Norms, between March and June 2018. Further, NCW was commissioned to conduct jail visits to 21 prisons across the nation between November 2017 and May 2018 to collect primary data on the current status of the conditions of women prisoners. The study also considered secondary data shared by Ministry of Home Affairs pertaining to the facilities available to women prisoners from nine States/UTs. Qualitative data on the conditions of prisoners was obtained from the National Crime Records Bureau, Bureau of Police Research and Development and National Human Rights Commission. In addition to this, various central level committees set up to review prison conditions as well as orders and judgements of the Supreme Court of India were also studied.
Now, the Ministry of Women and Child Development (MWCD) has come up with its report titled ‘Women in Prisons’ which aims to build an understanding of the various entitlements of women in prisons, the various issues faced by them and possible methods for resolution of the same. The report contains a comprehensive list of 134 recommendations for improving the lives of women under incarceration, addressing a wide range of issues pertaining to pregnancy and childbirth in prison, mental health, legal aid, reintegration in society and their caregiving responsibilities among others. Various changes in the National Model Prison Manual 2016 have also been suggested to bring it in line with international standards and norms.
Speaking about the report, Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Sanjay Gandhi has said that this initiative should change the way prison administration perceives women inmates.
The said report covers a wide range of issues that women face in prisons, and is inclusive of the needs of the elderly and the disabled. The report not only considers the needs of pregnant women, but also those who have recently given birth but whose children are not with them in prison, those who have miscarried, or those who have recently undergone abortion. Apart from this, due consideration has also been given to the religious and customary beliefs of inmates.
The report suggests that prior to their imprisonment, women with care-giving responsibilities must be allowed to make arrangements for their children, and a reasonable suspension of detention may also be provided for this purpose. In case there are no family/friends where the child (above 6 years of age) can be left, he must be placed in a Child Care Institution. To address the problems of loss of ties with the child, the report encourages greater links of the child with the mother throughout her incarceration through extended visits and frequent meetings.
The report proposes that bail should be granted to those under-trial women who have spent one-third of their maximum possible sentence in detention, by making necessary changes in Section 436A of the CrPC which provides for release after half of the maximum sentence has been served. The report also recommends that a maximum time frame may be decided for release of women prisoners after bail is granted but surety is not produced. This would ensure that poor or financially dependent women are not left to languish in prisons.
Considering the needs of women in their post-natal stages, the report recommends a separate accommodation for mothers in post-natal stage to maintain hygiene and protect the infant from contagion, for at least a year after childbirth. Apart from the needs of pregnant and lactating women, the report has also suggested that special provisions relating to health and nutrition be made for women who have recently given birth outside prison, or who have undergone abortion or miscarriage. The report recommends that instruments of restraint, punishment by close confinement or disciplinary segregation should never be used on pregnant and lactating women. The report also suggests that pregnant women must be given information and access to abortion during incarceration, to the extent permissible by law.
To make legal aid more effective, the report suggests that legal consultations must be conducted in confidentiality and without censorship. For persons with language barriers or sensory disabilities, adequate arrangements must be made by the prison administration to ensure that such persons do not face any disadvantage by providing an independent interpreter.
Re-integration of women in society is a grave problem, due to the stigma attached to incarceration. In the study conducted by MWCD, it was found that in many cases, women were abandoned by their families and were left to fend for themselves after their release. The report proposes a comprehensive after-care programme to be put in place, covering employment, financial support, regaining of child custody, shelter, counselling, continuity of health care services etc. Counselling should also be provided to family members and employers to adequately receive the woman after release.
The report also recommends that prison authorities should coordinate with local police to ensure released prisoners are not harassed by them due to the attached stigma. At least one voluntary organisation should be designated in each district to help with integration of released prisoners. Prisoners must also be given the right to vote, so as not to disconnect them from the larger political process and to enable them to become equal citizens of a democracy.
The grievance redressal mechanism in prisons was found to be inadequate, with scope for abuse and retaliation. Thus, a need for a more robust grievance redressal system was felt. The report therefore recommends that apart from the prisoner herself, her legal adviser or family members should be allowed to make complaints regarding her stay in prison. An inmate register can also be placed at an accessible spot in the prison for submitting grievances. All official visitors must hold special one-on-one interviews with prisoners away from prison authorities during inspection visits.
Keeping in mind the mental needs of prisoners it has been recommended that inmates should have access to female counsellors/psychologists at least on a weekly basis or as frequently as needed by them.
It is widely known that women in prisons face greater hardships than their male counterparts due to many factors such as social stigma, financial dependence on their families or husbands etc. These difficulties are further exacerbated when the woman has children. In the study conducted for the purpose of this report, it was found that women have to face numerous problems in prisons owing to inadequacy of female staff which often translates to the reality that male staff becomes responsible for female inmates, which is undesirable.
It was also found that women were not provided with meals that are nutritious and according to their bodily requirements. Apart from these issues, women are at a most disadvantageous position when it comes to their reintegration in society after release. Many are abandoned or harassed post-release, mainly due to the stigma attached with incarceration, which is even more pronounced in cases of women. Further, women tend to lose ties with their children over the years, due to inadequate child custody procedures. Also, a robust grievance redressal mechanism was required to tackle cases of sexual harassment, violence and abuse against women in jails.
This report would now be shared with the Ministry of Home Affairs for issuing advisory to the States for implementation of the recommendations made in the Report.