Centre prepares new Model Prisons Act with focus on reform

The Ministry of Home Affairs has prepared the ‘Model Prisons Act 2023,’ that will replace a British-era law to overhaul the prison administration, which will focus on the reformation and rehabilitation of inmates, it said on Friday.

Among the salient features of the Act are provisions of punishment for prisoners and jail staff for use of prohibited items such as mobile phones in jails, establishment and management of high security jails, open jail, and provisions for protecting the society from the criminal activities of hardened criminals and habitual offenders. It also contains provisions for providing legal aid to prisoners, parole, furlough and premature release to incentivise good conduct.

130-year-old Act

Prisons in the country and ‘persons detained therein’ are a State subject and the existing law in this context, the Prisons Act of 1894 is a pre-independence era Act and is almost 130-years-old, it said. Two other related laws — The Prisoners Act, 1900 and The Transfer of Prisoners Act, 1950 are also decades-old. The Model Prisons Act, the Ministry said, might serve as a “guiding document” for the States, and for adoption in their jurisdiction. The MHA said it found that there were “several lacunae” in the existing Prisons Act and there was “conspicuous omission” of the correctional focus in the existing Act.

The Ministry, hence, directed the Bureau of Police Research and Development, a Union government think tank on policing subjects, to review the laws and prepare a new draft.

“The [existing] Act mainly focuses on keeping the criminals in custody and enforcement of discipline and order in prisons. There is no provision for reform and rehabilitation of prisoners in the existing Act,” it said. It said a comprehensive ‘Model Prisons Act, 2023’ was finalised with the objective of holistically providing guidance and addressing the gaps in the existing Prisons Act.

“The BPR&D after holding wide-ranging discussions with State prison authorities, correctional experts etc. prepared a draft,” the Ministry said.