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Kavya S. Suvarna, III year of B.A.,LL.B. from Sinhgad Law College, Pune

India is a democratic country, whereby everyone is treated equally. Every citizen residing in India has certain rights and duties that are mentioned under the constitution of India. Similarly, a prisoner or a convict lawfully has access to some rights, even when he is under the custody of law for some crime committed. Along with the rights mentioned by the Constitution of India, a prisoner is also provided with certain rights under the Prisons Act, 1894. Even though a prisoner is under custody for breaking a law, he is still a human and hence no one can take these rights from him. The Supreme Court of India held that a prisoner is still a human being, a natural person and also a legal person’. But as a person who is put behind bars, there are some restrictions to the fundamental right that are provided to a prisoner.

Rights of Prisoners

The Supreme Court of India held that ‘right to life’ is one of the basic human rights, guaranteed to every person under Article 21 of the Constitution of India, and not even the State has the authority to violate it. A prisoner is still a human being even when he is lodged in jail and hence, he gets to enjoy all his fundamental rights including the right to life.

  • Right to health and medical treatment- According to the Honourable Supreme Court of India, “right to health care” is an essential right under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. As a result of which, every prisoner is entitled to proper health care and medical treatment under Article 21 of the Constitution. At times when a prisoner is in urgent need of medical help, every government or private service doctor, who is available, shall be ready to provide the necessary care for the protection of the life of the prisoner.

  • Right to food, water and clothing- Everyone under the Constitution of India, is entitled to the basic necessity of food, water and clothing and blankets. And no matter what the crime, a prisoner should not be denied these basic needs that are necessary for his mere survival while in custody.

  • Right to have adequate accommodation- Prisoners are kept behind bars for a very long time, that being said, they deserve to have proper accommodation facilities. Rooms with at least enough space that he can sleep in, as in some cases, many prisoners are made to live in a common space.

  • Right to meet friends/ relatives and consult lawyers- Those convicted by law, are allowed to meet their friends, family members and relatives on intervals. And also, the law allows them to consult a lawyer while in jail. The lawyers are allowed to have regular meetings with the prisoner to discuss the case.

  • Right against physical violence- Under the law, physical assault or torture on the prisoners is not permissible as it violates Article 21- Protection of Life and Personal Liberty. Violence by jailers is very common in many countries. Torture and assault during the investigation are not justified. The right to life and personal liberty may be changed to some extent, but it is not taken away. Under Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is mentioned that “no one shall be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”.

  • Right to community privilege- Every prisoner is entitled to talk with the other prisoners, play games, read newspapers or books or magazines, create an artistic piece of work, proper clothing etc. Prisoners are also allowed to work together or live together unless due to some reasons a prisoner is grounded for some time.

  • Right to a speedy trial: The Supreme Court of India held that every prisoner has the right to a speedy trial. Also, this is valid at all the stages like investigation, inquiry, trial, appeal, revision and re-trial.

  • Right against restraints- Use of handcuffs or iron fetters are restricted by the Government of India, to only in the case of a prisoner being violent, disorderly or likely to escape or commit suicide. Although in any case, a prisoner is handcuffed or put-on iron fetters, the jailer or the responsible officer needs to justify the reason.

  • No need of handcuffing, while escorting the voluntarily surrendered person- In case a prisoner has voluntarily surrendered to the police, there is no need for him to be handcuffed or put-on iron fetters.

  • Undertrial prisoner- In case of prisoners, who are undertrial as they are not yet proven guilty, should not be handcuffed or put-on iron fetters. The Supreme Court of India ‘declared, directed and laid down a rule that handcuffs or other fetters shall not be forced on a prisoner, convict or undertrial, lodged in jail anywhere in the country or while transporting or in transit from one jail to another or from jail to court and back, the police and the jail authorities, on their own, shall have no authority to direct the handcuffing of any inmates of a jail in the country or while transporting from one jail to another or from jail to court and back’.

  • Right to education- The Government has made provision for prisoners to continue their education while in jail so that they can better utilise the time and complete their education.

  • Right to Publication- If while behind bars, a prisoner does some artwork or writes an article that he wishes to get published, he is allowed to do so.

  • Right to reasonable wages for work: While in jail, the prisoners are made to work inside the premises and for many years all of this work was made to be done free of cost. The Supreme Court held that such unpaid work is an act of bonded labour and is also humiliating and is in violation of Article 23 of the Constitution of India- Prohibition of traffic in human beings and forced labour. As a result of which, reasonable wages are provided to every prisoner for every work done.

  • Right to receive a copy of the judgment- The prisoner is entitled to receive a copy of the judgment from the court free of cost. If not, it violates Article 21 of the Constitution of India.

  • Right to be released on time- Prisoners have the right to be released on the very day that has been mentioned by the court during the conviction. Any delay by the jailer or the police official is unacceptable.

Special Rights for Women Prisoners

  • Right of Female guard- Female prisoners are to be provided with female guard for the security. Even for investigation or inquiry, male guard or male police officer would not be allowed, everything regarding a female prisoner needs to be through a female guard or female police officer only.

  • Rights of Pregnant Prisoners-According to the guidelines given by the Supreme Court of India, in case of a pregnant woman, the authorities need to make sure that the jail she is being sent to, has the basic facilities available for the delivery of the child and also to provide with prenatal and postnatal care for the child as well as the mother.

  • Rights to mother prisoners- The Supreme Court has provided a provision whereby a women prisoner is allowed to keep her children with them until they attain the age of six years. After the child has attained the age of 6 years, she can hand over the child to a suitable surrogate of her choice, or to an institution that is run by the Social Welfare Department.

In the end, everyone is a human being and so hence everyone deserves the basic rights that a person needs to survive. No matter, if a person is behind bars or outside, there are some rights everyone gets which are protected by law.


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