This article on ‘PRISON SYSTEM OF INDIA is written by Priyal, a 4th year student from ICFAI University, Dehradun and an intern at Legal Upanishad.


The article will incorporate the evolution and modern structure of the prison system of India along with the drawbacks faced by it. When a person does any act which is forbidden by the law is said to commit a crime punishable by the law. In the Indian legal system, there are three types of punishments against crime i.e. imprisonment for a time period, life imprisonment and death penalty.


The word “Prison” evolves from the Latin word “Prehension” which means to arrest. Prison can be said as a place where an accused is imprisoned after being convicted. Legally, S.3 of The Prisons Act, 1894 defines ‘Prison’ as any place or a jail which is used for the detention of the prisoners either permanently or temporarily as per the general or special order of the State Government including building or lands appurtenant but excluding place specially appointed under S.541 of CrPC,1882 and subsidiary jail. 



The history of the prison system of India evolved in three stages. 

Ancient Period

In the ancient period, the societal structure was based upon manu. There were punishments of imprisonment, mutilation, the death penalty and ban. Although imprisonment existed but was not in a regular form and there was no formal prison structure. The prison was referred to as a place of mere detention of prisoners only till the judgment is passed.  

Medieval Period

Similar to the ancient period, there was an irregular form of the prison structure. In this period, the crimes were classified as a crime against god, private persons and the state. The condition of prisons was worse as there was no such prison in the real sense. Neither there was any internal governing nor any rules for the maintenance and working of prisons. 

Modern Period

Though the prison system of India was similar to the previous period the efforts were made to improve it. Since the prison system was used as a formal way of punishment, therefore The Prison Discipline Committee was formed to investigate the ongoing conditions of the prisons. The report of the committee listing the inferior conditions changed the prison structure in India by introducing penal laws and the Prisons Act, 1894. 


The prison governance is mentioned under the State list in the 7th Schedule of the Indian Constitution. The state government have exclusive authority to administer the prisons and the central government only have authority to provide for the security, medical amenities, repair and renovation for better administration and conditions of prisons. However, the Supreme Court of India enlisted certain rules for better governance like:

  1. Personal liberty is a fundamental right of an individual including prisoners.
  2. The prisoners are entitled to their human rights within the limits of confinement. 
  3. Prisoners shall not be made to suffer further if he is already suffering in confinement.

Types of Prison Structure

The prisons in India are established at three levels: Sub-Prison, District-Prison and Central-Prison. Some other prisons like Open-Prison, Women-Prison, Borstal School and Special-Prison also exists. 


These are small prisons located at sub-divisional places of a particular state and are well-maintained. Like 100 in Maharashtra, 99 in Andhra Pradesh, 96 in Tamil Nadu. 

District Prison

District Prisons are the main prisons of those states and UT’s which don’t have Central Jails. There are approximately 379 district jails in the nation. 

Central Prison

Central Prison is determined by the states. It is for those prisoners who have been convicted with life imprisonment or long-term imprisonment. The central prisons are large and spacious with better facilities. Like, Delhi has 16 central prisons, Madhya Pradesh has 11 etc. 

Open Prison

 It is for those prisoners who abide by prison rules and shows genuine behaviour. It has the least security.

Special Prison

These prisons have high security mainly made for terrorists, criminals committing serious offences or aggressive offenders. 

Women Prison

These are the prisons made for women offenders. There is a total of 20 women prisons in India. For eg., Maharashtra has 5 women prisons and 3 in Kerala & Tamil Nadu. 

Borstal School

 It is for minor offenders. It ensures sufficient care and welfare along with rehabilitation. The school provides the training of morals and ethics along with education to the minor offenders. 

Function of Prisons

Every person is entitled to exercise their fundamental rights under part III of the Indian Constitution. Even the prisoners cannot be denied to exercise of their fundamental rights. They are entitled to have their right to fair legal aid, right to a speedy trial, solitary confinement and protection against torture under A.21 i.e. right to life and personal liberty.  


  1. DK Basu v. State of West Bengal, 1997 1 SCC 416.  

In this case, the court held that the torture in custody violated the dignity of humans and so no arrested person can be detained without prior information of grounds of arrest to them.

2. M.H. Wadanrao Hoskot v.  the State of Maharashtra, AIR 1978 SCC 1548

The court held that the right to fair legal aid is the basic need of the fair trial procedure. 


Despite various improvement decisions, the prisons system of India still face some drawbacks like jammed prisons with a double rate of occupancy than the capacity to hold, poor hygiene and medical facilities, torture during custody, delayed justice. Recently, during the pandemic, 2191 prisoners got infected, 16060 custodial deaths were reported and about 90% of custodial rape is highlighted.


Although a lot of reforms were made in the prison system of India yet it needs some modifications. Despite strict laws concerned the prison system of India is still at a stake. There is a need for speedy justice and trial for grievous cases and strict safety measures for women offenders. There shall be deliberate implementation for S. 304 of IPC, 1860 for custodial deaths and CCTV cameras shall be installed within prisons to avoid such mishappenings. It can be thoroughly concluded that despite amendments and reforms, the situation still needs high attention. 


  1. C S Mallaiah. 1982. Development of Prison Administration in India. US Department of Justice Programs.
  2. Prison Conditions in India. Human Rights Watch.
  3. S.Umapathi IPS. (n.d.). Indian Prison System. Mcrhrdi Government. pdf.
  4. Dr. L.P. Raju. (n.d.). Historical Evolution of Prison System in India. Indian Journal of Applied Research.