In 2016, over 3 lakh women were arrested for crimes under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Special and Local Laws (SLL). A large number of these women were arrested for crimes under the Prohibition Act, for cruelty by relatives of husband and rioting etc. By observing combined figures of both convicted and undertrial prisoners we see that at 37%, a large proportion of women are in prison for murder, followed by 15% women who are incarcerated for dowry deaths.
The overall number of crimes by women has been relatively consistent over the past decade or so. There is a relatively consistent pattern over the last 15 years, with the number of women arrested for various offences remaining between 3-3.6 lakh. While this number is relatively large, only a proportion of arrested women are incarcerated in prison, either following conviction or under trial.
As per Prison Statistics India 2015, NCRB, from the end of 2015, there are 4,19,623 persons in jail in India. Women constitute 4.3% of this figure, numbering a total of 17,834 women. Of these, 66.8% (11,916) are undertrial prisoners. In India, an analysis of prison statistics at five-year intervals reveals an increasing trend in the number of women prisoners – 3.3% of all prisoners in 2000, 3.9% in 2005, 4.1% in 2010 and 4.3% in 2015 were women. While women prisoners continue to be a minority in all parts of the world (less than 10%), the female prison population has increased faster than the male prison population on every continent.
A majority of female inmates are in the age group of 30 - 50 years (50.5%), followed by 18-30 years (31.3% ). Of the total 1,401 prisons in India, only 18 are exclusive for women, housing 2,985 female prisoners. Thus, a majority of women inmates are housed in women’s enclosures of general prisons.
The geographical spread of women prisoners varies across the country. Uttar Pradesh by far has the highest number of women in prison (3,533), followed by West Bengal (1,506), Maharashtra (1,336) and Madhya Pradesh (1,322). The Union Territories, apart from Delhi (579), have a particularly low number of women in prison.
As per the State List provided in the Seventh Schedule of Indian Constitution, all issues related to prisons, reformatories, borstal institutions and other institutions of a like nature, and persons detained therein; arrangements with other States for the use of prisons and other institutions come under the domain of State Governments. The rules of incarceration are determined by following laws:
A National Policy on Prison Reforms and Correctional Administration had also been framed in 2007, which gave a number of directives relevant to women prisoners – maintenance of human rights of prisoners, avoiding overstay of undertrials etc. It further states, “Women prisoners shall be protected against all exploitation. Work and treatment programmes shall be devised for them in consonance with their special needs.”
The key features of the updated Model Prison Manual 2016 include emphasis on prison computerization, special provisions for women prisoners, focus on after-care services, prison inspections, rights of prisoners sentenced to death, repatriation of prisoners from abroad, enhanced focus on prison correctional staff.
The CrPC contains certain special provisions for the arrest of women – the arrest of women after sunset and before sunrise (except with the prior permission of Judicial Magistrate First Class) is prohibited and a female arrestee is mandated to only be searched by a female officer with due regard to decency.
The police official arresting the woman should ideally be dressed in plain clothes and not their uniform so as to reduce the stigma associated with incarceration.
Provisions should also be made for the custody of minor children of the woman at the time of arrest. She must provide in writing the name and details of the person with whom she wishes her minor children to stay during her period of incarceration, and this must be complied with strictly. In case where no family/friends are available to care for the child and he/she cannot accompany the mother to prison, the child should be appropriately plac ed in a Child Care Institution.
In case of pregnant prisoners, the provisions of the National Model Prison Manual must be followed strictly to make arrangements for temporary release for delivery of children in a hospital outside the prison. Suspension of sentence may be considered in the case of casual offenders. Information about a woman’s pregnant status should also be made to the Court that has ordered the detention, to enable the Court to grant bail (where appropriate) or modify the detention order as deemed necessary.
The birth certificate of the child born to a woman in prison should never mention the prison as place of birth to protect them against social stigma.
Pregnant and lactating women should be provided with special diet as per the National Prison Manual. Mothers in postnatal stage should also be allowed separate accommodation to maintain hygiene and protect their infant from contagion, for at least a year after childbirth. Further, instruments of restraint, punishment by close confinement or disciplinary segregation should never be used on pregnant or lactating women.
Pregnant and lactating women should receive advice on their health and diet under a programme to be drawn up by a qualified health practitioner. Inmates should not be discouraged from breastfeeding their children. Medical and nutritional needs of women prisoners who have recently given birth whose babies are not with them in prison, women who have undergone abort ion or have had a miscarriage should also be included in treatment and nutrition programmes.
Women prisoners must have access to urine pregnancy test kits within prison , as per their requirement, free of cost. Pregnant women must also be provided information and access to abortion during incarceration, to the extent permitted by law.
Pregnant women must be given the option to take up work during their pregnancies and in the post - natal phase if they so choose. Work provided to them must be suited to their health conditions.
Aadhar cards must be made for all inmates, especially for mothers and infants to enable them to become beneficiaries of various government welfare schemes.
When deciding on the prison to which the woman is to be sent, regard should be had to her caretaking responsibilities if she has a child, and as far as possible, the woman must be given the choice of selecting the prison.
Children must be kept in the prison in a manner that t hey are not made to feel like offenders. Administration should ensure that the facilities provided are tailored towards children living under their care. NGOs, schools and paediatricians can be engaged to ensure that children in prisons have access to basic facilities of education, day care, recreation and a healthy lifestyle.
To the extent possible, prison administration shall strive to create a suitable environment for children's upbringing , which is as close as possible to that of a child outside prison. E.g. airy room s with adequate natural light, minimum security restrictions, outdoor play area, opportunity to socialize with peers outside prison if not available within prison etc. The Board of visitors shall inspect these facilities at regular intervals. Women prisoners whose children are in prison with them shall be provided with the maximum possible opportunities to spend time with their children.
Children should receive a special diet and be regularly examined by a Lady Medical Officer at least once a month to monitor their physical growth and condition of physical and mental health. They should have access to a Lady Medical Officer as per their need.
Children, whether living in prison or visiting, should never be treated as prisoners. The prison staff must display sensitivity, respect and dignity when searching children. Body cavity searches should never be applied to children.
Ideally, no child shall be admitted into or retained in prison if he/she has attained the age of six years. The best interest of the child should be the determining criteria to determine whether and for how long they should stay with their mothers in prison.
Prior to or on admission, women with caretaking responsibilities for children should be permitted to make arrangements for those children including the possibility of a reasonable suspension of detention, taking into account the best interests of the child.
In case where no family/friends are available to care for the child and he/she cannot accompany the mother to prison, the child should be appropriately placed in a Child Care Institution. It must be ensured that children of the same woman prisoner are housed together in alternative care. The prison administration must ensure that the child be placed in a manner that she/ he can interact with the mother regularly at least once a week.
Children must be removed from the mother’s care with utmost sensitivity, and only after making adequate arrangements for his/her stay. A register recording particulars of guardians/persons in whose custody the children of women prisoners are kept must be maintained. It should also be ensured that the inmate could take custody of her child from the Child Care Institution on her release from prison. In case of foreign nationals, removal and alternative arrangements should only be done in consultation with their consular representatives.
Prison administration should ensure that links between inmates and children outside prison are maintained throughout h er incarceration . The place of interaction between inmates and their children living outside prison should be one where easy conversation can take place, in a positive environment, where physical contact is possible between mother and child.
Overnight visits for minor children living outside prison to maintain a bond with their mothers must be allowed at least once every quarter. A separate area with a positive homely environment must be provided within the prison for purpose of this stay with the m other.
Prisons should provide educational scholarships for women inmates’ children above 6 years. E.g. In Tihar Jail, Delhi, children of inmates who are from Delhi are provided educational scholarship of Rs. 3,500 for one child and Rs. 6,000 for two children per month, subject to conditions like income etc. This could be replicated in other states as well.
Women prisoners sentenced to six months imprisonment or below should be issued 3 sets of clothing, 2 towels and 3 sets of customary undergarments. This number will increase to 5 sets of clothing, 3 towels and 5 sets of customary undergarments for women sentenced to over six months. Inmates should be able to choose type of clothing from a set of options as per preference. At a minimum this should include saree with blouse and petticoat, kurta with salwar and dupatta, shirt with trouser/long skirt in light colours, but not necessarily white.
Women in their post-natal phase must be given separate accommodation for one year after delivery to maintain a certain standard of hygiene and to protect the child from infections and other diseases. Also, sick women prisoners must be kept isolated for health purposes.
Comprehensive health screening of women must be done on admission, with due regard to their right to privacy, dignity and confidentiality, including their right to refuse screening. This will help in identifying health issues, providing adequate treatment and in preparing an individualised health and diet plan for the inmate. Routine tests must be done periodically thereafter.
There should be comprehensive medical check-ups on an annual basis, regular medical check-ups on a monthly basis and access to a lady medical officer at all times for check-up, testing, treatment etc. as needed by the inmate. Papanicolaou tests and screening for breast and gynaecological cancer should be done for women on a regular basis. In case lady medical officer is not available, prisoner will be transferred to the nearest medical facility where a lady doctor is available.
Women with mental health issues must be transferred to appropriate institutions rather than keeping them in prisons. Inmates should have access to female counsellors/psychologists at least on a weekly basis or as frequently as needed by them. First-time offenders must especially be counselled on admission, to prevent recidivism.
Sterilized sanitary pads should be issued free of cost to women prisoners as per their requirements with no maximum limit.
Information about preventive measures for HIV, STDs or other gender-specific diseases must be provided.
The prison staff must undergo mandatory training in gender - specific needs of women, first aid and basic medicine to tackle emergencies and minor issues effectively.
Body searches must be conducted as per clearly formulated guidelines. While searching women prisoners, the least intrusive mode should be adopted as considered appropriate in the situation. The type of search to be conducted should be communicated clearly to the inmate and reason for the same should be explained. In case of strip searches, they should be conducted in two distinct steps with upper body and lower body examined one after the other to avoid complete nudity at a given time. Body cavity searches should be avoided, as far as possible. CCTV cameras must be used with due regard to the dignity and privacy of women prisoners.
A written record should be kept of the type and frequency of searches for all inmates, which should be available for examination by official visitors.
All staff involved in the custody, interrogation and treatment of prisoner must be sensitised on gender-issues, human rights and sexual misconduct.
Source : Report on Women in prisons - India
Last Modified : 3/9/2020