Feb 23, 2022

The Curious Case of Stan Swamy: Prisoners’ Rights in India

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) has told the special NIA court that they do not have a straw and sipper to give to 83-year-old Father Stan Swamy. On November 6, Swamy sought permission to allow him a straw and sipper in Taloja Central Jail as he suffers from Parkinson’s disease and cannot hold a glass.


What laws govern prisoners in India?

Indian law regulates prisons and prisoners under the Prisons Act, 1894 and the Prisoners Act, 1900.


What are a prisoner’s medical rights?

Every prison must have a Medical Officer and a Medical Subordinate (Assistant Surgeon, Apothecary or qualified Hospital Assistant). 


If the Medical Officer thinks a prisoner’s mind might be harmed because of the discipline or treatment that they are put through in prison, the Officer should write and report the case to the Superintendent, with observations. This report, with the Superintendent’s orders, should be sent immediately to the Inspector General of Prisons for information.


The Jailer should immediately tell the Medical Subordinate about prisoners wanting to see them, or sick prisoners who need medical attention. The Jailer should also implement all written directions given by the Medical Officer/Subordinate regarding alterations of the discipline or treatment of such prisoners.


The Medical Officer/Subordinate’s directions regarding any prisoner should be entered daily in the prisoner’s personal information record. The Jailer should record each direction and whether it was followed or not, along with observations. 


Labour of criminal prisoners

A prisoner who has committed a crime may be ordered to do labour as part of their punishment, for a maximum of nine hours per day. The Medical Officer should examine the labouring prisoners while they are employed. At least once in every two weeks, the Officer should record the weight of each labouring prisoner as part of their personal information. 


If the Officer thinks a prisoner’s health is suffering due to any kind of labour, the prisoner should be placed in another kind of suitable labour.


What happens if a prisoner dies?

If any prisoner dies, the Jailer should immediately notify the Superintendent and the Medical Subordinate. The Medical Officer should record the following details of the death in a register:


  1. The day on which the dead prisoner first complained of illness or was observed to be ill; 
  2. Their labour and diet on that day
  3. The day they were admitted to hospital and the nature of the disease
  4. The day when the Medical Officer was first informed of the illness, and when the prisoner was last seen alive by the Medical Officer/Subordinate
  5. When the prisoner died; and if a post-mortem examination is conducted, then an account of their appearance after death with special remarks by the Medical Officer.