Deaths in India’s Prisons

Deaths in India’s Prisons 

Why in News ? 

Recently, the Supreme Court Committee on Prison Reforms found suicide to be the leading cause of ‘unnatural’ deaths in India’s prisons.

Classification of Prison Deaths in India:

  • Prison deaths are labelled as ‘natural’ or ‘unnatural’ by the Prison Statistics India report published by the National Crime Records Bureau every year.
  • In 2021, a total of 2,116 prisoners died in judicial custody, with almost 90% of cases recorded as natural deaths.

Natural Deaths:

  • ‘Natural’ deaths account for ageing and illness. Illness has been further subcategorised into diseases such as heart conditions, HIV, tuberculosis, and cancer, among others.

Unnatural Deaths:

  • ‘Unnatural’ deaths are more diverse in classification, profiled as:
  • Suicide (due to hanging, poisoning, self-inflicted injury, drug overdose, electrocution, etc.)
  • Death due to inmates
  • Death due to assault by outside elements

Unnatural Deaths of Inmates in Prisons in 2021

As per a report by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) the suicide rate among inmates was found to be more than twice that recorded in the general population.

After suicide, most unnatural deaths are due to “other” reasons or murder by inmates.

Supreme Court’s Judgments:

The Supreme Court in a 1996 judgment mentioned that, prisoners’ incarceration places limitations to access; no physician of choice, no second opinions, and few if any specialists.

Secondly, because of the conditions of their incarceration, inmates are exposed to more health hazards than free citizens.”

How are Deaths Investigated?

  • Since 1993, the NCRB has been required to intimate a custodial death within 24 hours, followed by post-mortem reports, magisterial inquest reports or videography reports of the post-mortem.
  • In cases of custodial rape and death, the Code of Criminal Procedure also requires compulsory judicial magisterial inquiry in place of an executive magistrate inquiry.

Important Facts from Prison Statistics

  • The total number of prisons at national level has increased from 1,306 in 2020 to 1,319 in 2021, having increased by 1.0%.
  • The highest number of jails was reported in Rajasthan (144) followed by Tamil Nadu (142), Madhya Pradesh (131).

Deaths in India Prisons


  • The actual capacity of prisons has increased from 4,14,033 in 2020 to 4,25,609 in 2021, having increased by 2.8%.
  • Out of the total capacity 4,25,609 in 1,319 prisons in 2021, the Central Jails of the country were having the highest capacity (1,93,536) followed by the District Jails and the Sub Jails.


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