Author: Akash.S.Kharvi, III year B.A.LLB (Hons.) from Maharashtra National Law University, Mumbai
"A Nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones."
Solitary Confinement is one of the coercive and deterrent punishments which forbids the prisoners from having any contact with the other inmates of the cell and are generally confined in small non – ventilated cells where they spend more than 22 hours a day. Solitary Confinement is usually awarded as a punishment to convicts with extreme behavior causing problems to other inmates and as a disciplinary measure in case of violation of any rules in prison. Generally, there is a fixed period for solitary Confinement, but prison officials often misuse it by extending the stay of convicts for an indefinite period.
Recently, The Telangana High Court in Trisha Chandran v. The Superintendent, Cherlapally Central Prison & Anr directed the authorities of Cherlapally Central Prison to remove two death row inmates from Solitary Confinement as the inmates still had legal recourse left to challenge their sentence in the Courts and criticized the arbitrary application of solitary confinement provisions on death row inmates.
This article seeks to critically evaluate the key provisions and principles related to solitary Confinement in India and assess the nature and scope of this provision in light of various Judgments passed by the Courts.
Laws Related to Solitary Confinement in India
The term "Solitary Confinement" is not defined in any code or legislation, but the provisions related to it can be located in the Indian Penal Code 1860 and the Prisoners Act 1894. Section 73 of the IPC states that – The Court has the power to impose solitary Confinement as a part of rigorous punishment but should not exceed three months as a whole. This section further segregates the sentence related to solitary Confinement based on the imprisonment period –
If the sentence is less than six months in jail, the time spent in solitary confinement cannot exceed one month.
The amount of time spent in solitary Confinement can be at most two months if the sentence is more than six months but not more than a year.
If the sentence is more than a year in jail, the time spent in solitary confinement cannot exceed three months.
Section 74 of the Indian Penal Code limits solitary Confinement by restricting time intervals between solitary Confinement. This section states that the period of solitary Confinement should be at most 14 days as a whole and breaks between the two Confinement not be less than the prescribed period. Similarly, in the imprisonment of more than three months, the solitary Confinement should be at most seven days a month, and the intervals between the two Confinement will be at least the prescribed period. Similarly, Section 29 and 30(2) of the Prisoners Act 1894 also delineates solitary confinement provisions.
Section 29 prescribes specific rules that prison officials need to follow in case of a person in solitary Confinement, including a medical officer's visitation.
Section 30 (2) deals with solitary Confinement in the case of capital punishment, which states that upon the final death sentence, with no legal remedies left further to challenge in court, the prisoner will be placed in a separate cell with a guard looking after for 24 hours.
Origins of Solitary Confinement as a medium of "Punishment."
The Origins of Solitary Confinement began as an experiment in the eastern state penitentiary in Philadelphia. The main idea behind this was a Quaker belief, which essentially assumed that an individual isolated in stone cells with a Bible would repent and realize their mistake. This experiment massively failed as the inmates went crazy in isolation, and some even attempted suicide. Ultimately, isolating the prisoners was slowly abandoned in forthcoming years.
Similarly, in the late 1780s in India, solitary Confinement was promoted as a substitute for physical punishment to reform the prison system. They thought that Confinement in isolated cells would give the inmates time to think about their crimes, bring about moral and spiritual transformation, and evoke repentance. Unfortunately, this idea, too, fell flat as there were massive side effects on the health of the prisoners. Ultimately, by the 18th Century, Prison officials further reduced solitary Confinement in jails due to overcrowding in prisons, and currently, it is followed based on special circumstances.
Solitary Confinement of death row inmates – US and India
Death row inmates generally suffer from the double punishment, one being in a dark cell room waiting till the date of their execution and the second being the impending death itself. There is no apparent logic on why a person should spend the last days of his life alone behind bars, but this Confinement practice is quite prevalent in many parts of the globe, including the US and India.
As per American Civil Liberties Union, most United States prisons keep prisoners serving death sentences in single non-ventilated cells where they have no contact or communication with the outside world. According to the ACLU survey, nearly 81 percent of the prisons in the states adhering to capital punishment have just one hour of access to daily exercises for death row inmates, and some even deny the essential facilities to them. Some Solitary Confinements cross years, and some even to the extent of decades; for example - Albert Woodfox, a US Prisoner, spent nearly 44 years in solitary Confinement and surprisingly survived the trauma.
Similarly, in India, even though the practice of Solitary Confinement is reduced with judicial intervention but still prevalent even today in cases of death row inmates. The 42nd law commission report suggested the abolition of solitary Confinement and its omission from the Indian Penal Code. However, Section 30(2) of the prisoner's act still has legal backing in denying the same rights to death row inmates.
Landmark Judgments related to Solitary Confinement
From time to time, the Judiciary has played a vital role in protecting the rights of the inmates from rigorous solitary Confinement with some finest judgments which act as a precedent against the draconian actions of prison officials.
Sunil Batra v. Delhi Administration is one landmark judgment regarding solitary Confinement for death row inmates. In this case rights of the prisoners were upheld, and it held that prisoners are dehumanized in isolation. Restricting the prisoner's right to move freely violates Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. Even the applicability of Section 30(2) concerning death row inmates should be done when the inmate exhausts all legal recourse to challenge the death sentence in court and not at the earlier stage. This case established a significant precedent in deciding future issues related to solitary Confinement.
In Kishor Singh Ravinder Dev Etc vs. State Of Rajasthan, the apex court held that confining the prisoners for a more extended period in solitary Confinement is a clear violation of Article 21 of the constitution. The applicability of this section should be made only in the “rarest of the rare case” and not on some feeble grounds. This decision was further upheld and followed in Union of India v. Dharam Pal, where the prisoner was held for nearly 18 years in solitary confinement out of the more than 25 years he spent in jail. The Supreme Court, in this case, held that such Confinement amounts to additional punishment and is not approved by the law.
In State of Andhra Pradesh v. Challa Ramakrishna Reddy, the Supreme court further reiterated the fact that the prisoner retains all of his fundamental rights granted by the Indian Constitution, including Article 21, and no legislation should prevent them from exercising those rights, regardless of whether they are inmates or convicted criminals.
The Punjab and Haryana High Court took a step further in the State Of Haryana vs. Arun And Ors by abolishing solitary Confinement for death row inmates in Punjab and Haryana. The High Court opined that there is no scientific reason or any logic to segregate the death row inmates from other prisoners immediately upon the pronouncement of the death sentence. This causes significant mental trauma to the convict and violates Articles 20(2) and 21 of the Indian Constitution.
Similar to the decision pronounced by Punjab and Haryana High Court, the Uttarakhand High Court in State of Uttarakhand v. Mehtab, Sushil and Bhura abolished the practice of solitary Confinement and held that such treatment is brutal, inhumane and infringes Article 20(2) and 21 of the Constitution.
Conclusion and Recommendations
The Practice of Solitary Confinement is one of the inhumane and brutal punishment imposed on a prisoner. Section 73 and 74 of IPC even though puts some restrictions on its applicability but at the same time it indirectly grants legality to solitary confinement. Similarly, the centuries old colonial legislation Prisoners Act,1894 further adds fuel to the fire by confining the rights of death row inmates. Despite these arbitrary rules and regulations related to solitary confinement the judiciary played a pivotal role in upholding the fundamental rights of the prisoners with their Judgments. These Judgments offers the way forward in ensuring that basic human rights of the prisoners remain intact.
The main purpose of the prison system is to ensure the reformation of the prisoners and reduce recidivism. Solitary Confinement neither ensures reformation nor reduces recidivism it only acts as a “Punishment beyond Punishment” which doesn’t serve any purpose towards welfare of prisoners. Therefore, Solitary confinement in prisons need to exercised only in the exceptional circumstances as a last resort and not as a tool of suppression for rights of the prisoners.