Confining hardcore criminals to cell for 22 hours a day illegal, impermissible: HC

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Chandigarh, Jul 2 (PTI) The Punjab and Haryana High Court has observed that confining hardcore criminals to a cell for 22 hours a day is 'illegal' and 'impermissible' as they can't be reduced to animal-like existence.

The High Court made the observation hearing a bunch of pleas filed by several inmates lodged in Punjab's Bathinda jail.

The petitioners had contended that they have been denied various amenities allowed to ordinary inmates and are confined to their cells for 22 hours a day, which amounts to solitary confinement and violates their basic rights.

The court held that confining criminals in a cell for 22 hours in a day and releasing them only for two hours is 'impermissible'.

'The quasi-solitary confinement is held to be illegal and violative of the rights guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution,' observed Justice Sudhir Mittal on Thursday.

The High Court, after hearing both the parties, sought a report about the situation in the jail.

The court said during the 22-hour confinement, a prisoner has 'no company except for the odd prison staff which comes on rounds'.

'He is not able to see any other human being and thus, conversation with fellow beings is out of the question. There is no facility of common messing,' the court observed.

'Except for one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening, the inmate is all by himself with his solitude and there is no limit on the period for which he will be so confined. Such confinement is not strictly solitary confinement but can be called quasi-solitary because the inmate is deprived of human company for extended lengths of time,' the judge said.

'It can thus not be justified even on grounds of maintenance of discipline and order and curtailment of crime. A prisoner remains a person and cannot be reduced to animal existence,' it said while pointing out such treatment completely discards the rehabilitative aspect of punishment, which is a major component in the philosophy of sentencing in every developed society.

The court further said it is now well settled that the prisoners are human beings despite their liberty having been curtailed.

'They may not enjoy all rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution of India, yet, basic rights and liberties are available to them which are the rights guaranteed by Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution of India,' it said.

The court observed that the prison administration can surely come up with suggestions which would make the custody conform to the law of the land while meeting the security concerns.

'For example, the identified prisoners could be housed in separate barracks instead of cells where provision is also made for messing. Members of rival gangs could be confined in different barracks and the system of staggered lockouts could be retained,' it said.

'Confinement to cells be restricted from sunset to sunrise and period of lockouts be increased, however, within the confines of high security zones. The final decision of course, would rest with the prison administration, but is always open to judicial scrutiny,” it said.

Punjab, on its part, informed the court about various directions for the maintenance of discipline in prisons and narrated the details of need for greater security measures and decision to shift 42 hardcore prisoners to Bathinda prison.

The state argued when prisoners belonging to different gangs are housed in the same prison, it results in riots and disorderly conduct.

The court has adjourned the matter for July 19, asking the state to inform about fresh measures which it intends to take on the issue. PTI SUN VSD RDK RDK

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