Updated: Aug 26, 2020

Author: Kamal Kishor, a fourth-year student at the Maharashtra National Law University, Nagpur.


A prisoner can be defined as someone who is deprived of his liberty because he has committed an act which is prohibited under the law.[1] When a person is charged and convicted of an offense, he is always be considered as a human being regardless of the nature and the gravity of the offense therefore, he is also entitled to almost the same rights as a free man with some exceptions. The fact that the detainment facilities in India require reform towards the detainee to make them a better person in the prison rather than exploiting them. The prisoners have basic rights including food, water, shelter protection from harassment, etc. Whereas, the prisoners, also enjoy some other constitutional and statutory rights which cannot be taken away from a human being.

Rights under the Constitution of India

The Apex court at the time to time has held that a person does not disqualify to be a person just because he is behind the bars. In Charles Shobraj v. Superintendent of Police[2] the Supreme Court held that “prisoners retain all rights enjoyed by free citizens except those lost necessarily as an incident of confinement. Moreover, the rights enjoyed by prisoners under Articles 14, 19, and 21, though limited, are not static and will rise to human heights when challenging situations to arise.” Again, in C. R. Reddy’s[3] case, it was held that every prisoner is entitled to enjoy all the fundamental rights except when his liberty is curtailed as per the provisions of law. It is argued that a person is sent to jail as punishment and not for punishment hence shall be treated as a human being. Following are the basic constitutional rights that every prisoner is entitled:

Art. 14- Right to Equality and Equal Treatment.

Art. 19- Right to Freedom Speech and Expression and Form association etc.

Art. 20- Right against Double Jeopardy and Self-Incrimination.

Art. 21- Right to life and personal liberty.

Art. 39A- Right to reasonable wages in prison.

Other Rights Under The Prisons Act, 1894

Section 4- Right to accommodation and sanitary conditions for prisoners

Section 7- Right to shelter and safe custody of the excess number of prisoners who cannot be safely kept in any prison

Section 24- Right to the examination of prisoners by qualified Medical Officer

Section 27- Provisions relating to the separation of prisoners, containing female and male prisoners, civil and criminal prisoners, and convicted and undertrial prisoners.

Rights provided by way of Judicial Pronouncement

· Right to Free Legal aid

The SC at various stages said that poverty shall not be the reason for someone’s inability to get justice. Therefore, the state has a constitutional obligation to provide legal aid as a basic right during the trial and also to the convicted persons. In Madhav Hayawadan Rao Hosket’s case,[4] the SC held that “legal aid one of the components of fair trial and reading Articles 21 and 39-A along with Article 142 and section 304 of CrPC together imposes a duty on the Government to provide legal services to the accused persons.”

· Right to Speedy trial

In the case of Hussainara Khatoon’s case,[5] apex court held speedy trial as part of Article 21 of the Constitution guaranteeing the right to life and liberty. The court further added that “the state cannot be permitted to deny the constitutional right of a speedy trial to the accused on the ground that the State has no adequate financial resources to incur the necessary expenditure needed for improving the administrative and judicial apparatus with a view to improving speedy trial.”

· Right to meet friends/relatives

Even though a person is kept in jail he is still a social person and he shall not be kept away from society. In Dharambir v. State of UP,[6] the court held that prisoner has the right to meet their family and friends once a year. Along with that, he has also a right to form about whereabout to his friend or relative who is interested in his welfare.

· Right to reasonable wages

The court in Mohammad Giasuddin v. State of AP[7] held that when prisoners work in the prison, they should be paid enough that mental satisfaction can be felt by them. The Supreme Court again in Sanjit Roy v. State of Rajasthan[8] held that “no prisoner can be asked to do labour without wages. It is not only the legal right of a workman to have wages for the work but it is a social imperative and an ethical compulsion.”

· Right against Narco analysis

The prisoner cannot be in any situation made subject to Narcoanalysis, Polygraph test because it is unconstitutional and violative of human rights. In Selvi v. State of Karnataka,[9] the apex court held narco test unconstitutional and violative to part III of the constitution and declared that a person can only be subjected to such tests with his consent. The result of the test is not admissible as evidence in the court of law but can only be used as a tool of investigation.

· Right against inhuman treatment

The apex court in various cases had emphasized the inhuman treatment with the prisoners by the prison authority. The court in various cases has held that third-degree torture is violative of Article 21 and it is inhuman to treat a person like an animal.

Moreover, the fact that a convicted person is sent to jail as a punishment, it means, his being in the jail itself is a punishment therefore putting him in solitary confinement is a totally different punishment. The SC in Sunil Batra’s case[10] held that putting a prisoner into solitary confinement is wrong and against the spirit of the constitution hence it is violative of their fundamental rights.

· Right to health and medical treatment

The right to medical treatment is a human right and an essential ingredient of Art. 21 of the Constitution of India, hence is available to the prisoners. In Rasikbhai Ramsing Rana v. State of Gujarat,[11] the court held the jail authorities liable for not providing adequate medical facilities to the sick prisoners.

· Right against handcuffing or another instrument of restrain

The Apex court in Prem Shankar’s case[12] held that “handcuffing is prima-facie inhuman and, therefore, unreasonable, is over harsh and at the first flush, arbitrary. Absent fair procedure and objective monitoring to inflict irons are to resort to Zoological strategies repugnant to Article 21 of the Constitution”. Therefore, handcuffing can be used only when there is a strong possibility of the prisoner to escape and that also with at most caution.

[1] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/prisoner. [2] Charles Shobraj v. Superintendent of Police, 1978 AIR 1514 (India). [3] State of A.P. v. Challa Ramkrishna Reddy, AIR 2000 SC 2083 (India). [4] Madhav Hayawadan Rao Hosket v. State of Maharashtra, 1978 AIR 1548 (India). [5] Hussainara Khatoon v. Home Secretary State of Bihar, 1979 AIR 1360 (India). [6] Dharambir v. State of UP, AIR 1979 SC 1595 (India). [7] Mohammad Giasuddin v. State of AP, AIR 1977 SC 1926 (India). [8] Sanjit Roy v. State of Rajasthan, AIR 1983 SC 328 (India). [9] Selvi v. State of Karnataka, AIR 2010 SC 1974 (India). [10] Sunil Batra v. Delhi Administration, (1978) 4 SCC 409 (India). [11] Rasikbhai Ramsing Rana v. State of Gujarat, 1999 CriLJ 1975 (India). [12] Prem Shankar Shukla vs. Delhi Administration, 1980 AIR 1535 (India).