Consentia on Multidisciplinary Research


“Institutions such as Tihar which are inhabited by thousands of people behind huge blind gates can be seen either by the inhabitants sent in by court orders or the few “privileged” persons in charge.”

During my internship in the Tihar jail in the month of December, 2013, I had the opportunity to observe the life of people inside the barricaded walls of one of the largest detention and correctional facilities in the world. I also had the opportunity to observe the various welfare schemes and their functioning in the Tihar Jail for the inmates and was pleasantly surprised.

But India has a large number of correctional facilities, and not all of these are as efficient as Tihar in their functioning, with stories of abysmal conditions of prisons in India coming out off and on. They face a myraid of problems, may it be the problem of overcrowding or a poorly managed legal aid system for the prisoners, resulting into sub-human conditions.

While the other prisons struggle with such problems, the Tihar Jail has successfully curbed most of them and is working efficiently to curb the ones still existing. It is known for the various products it manufactures and sells throughout Delhi, earning revenue to invest in the welfare of the prisoners. The reformatory and rehabilitation record of Tihar is legendary.

In the following paper, we will discuss the major problems being faced by the various prisons throughout the country and how Tihar can be used as a role model for all the other jails in mitigating these problems.


Shifted to the current site in the year 1958, Tihar consists of 9 central and 1 district jail. Presently, it has a capacity of 6250 prisoners, but lodges an average of about 13000 prisoners.

Apart from the overcrowding, there are frequent references on suicides, clashes, murders and distortions instead of corrections inside the Tihar. Being the largest prison in the country, it is not surprising that it has its share of problems being faced by other prisons, and more. Yet encouraging parameters of Tihar propel its model to be a fit case for studying and analysis of the problems in the Indian prisons system.


The authors of the report on the Prison Conditions in India by Human Rights Watch say, “We knew they would be bad, if only because life is hard for most Indians outside the prisons. It stands to reason, therefore, that if incarceration is meant to punish, life inside the prisons should be worse. What took us by surprise, however, is the manner in which it is worse for the great majority of prisoners.”

Some of the more striking problems relevant to the prisons in India are:

  1. Overcrowding

The biggest problem in India as a country is the overpopulation, and it has its fallout in the prisons of India as well. A report in The Hindu (July 27, 2002) mentions jails in some states to be filled with over four hundred percent of their original capacity.


  • According to the report of National Crime Reports Bureau, Ministry of Human Affairs, in the year 2010-11 the occupancy rate of prisons in India is 115% at an average.
  • According to the report of the National Human Rights Commission, in 2001-02, against the capacity of about thirty three thousand, the jails in Uttar Pradesh are housing almost fifty thousand inmates.

According to a report in the Times of India (May 16, 2001), the central jail in Hyderabad accommodates as many as fifteen hundred prisoners against its official capacity of only seven hundred.

This overcrowding of prisons lead to many other problems for the prisoners as well as the prison administration, some of which are illustrated below:

  1. Unsatisfactory Living Conditions

To improve prison conditions does not mean that prison life should be made soft; it means that it should be made human and sensible.

Overcrowding is a serious problem being faced, greatly contributing in abysmal conditions of the prisoners.


  • As reported in The Statesman (March 4, 2001), the Human Rights Commission in its annual report (2000) lambasted West Bengal for appalling conditions of the jails.
  • According to a report by India Today (June 24, 2011), in the Tiruchirapalli women’s prison in Tamil Nadu, inmates have to get mud to clean their toilets since there isn’t any water.
  • Lodged in the Tamil Nadu prison for five years as an under trial from 2005 to 2010, an under trial named Murugeswari has written that water was so scarce that they had to choose between washing themselves and their clothes.

  1. Prison Programmes Affected

Various prisons across the country have established workshops to provide certain skills to the prisoners so that they can get gainful employment on their release. But due to the overcrowding of prisons, more and more of these workshops are being used to lodge prisoners. According to report of a workshop held in Bhopal, only 16 out of 120 prisons in Madhya Pradesh can afford the luxury to provide such workshops to the prisoners, and these are also coming under the threat due to the increasing overcrowding in prisons.

  1. Understaffing

The total sanctioned staff in Indian Prisons is around 49,000 at various ranks. But the actual strength as of 2010 is a little over 40,000. The ratio between prison staff and prison population is 1:7, which means that there is only one prison staff available for every 7 prisoners throughout the country. However, in countries like UK, there are 2 prison officers available for every 3 prisoners.


  1. Lack of Legal Aid

The legal rights entitled to needy under-trials have been mandated by the Constitution. In D.K Basu v. State of West Bengal (SC, 1996), Supreme Court has ordered free legal aid to every person from the point of arrest. However, in reality, legal aid is only provided at the time of trial, that too in most cases only for name-sake.

Further, under the Legal Aid Services Authorities Act, 1987, the Legal Aid Boards have been set up at Centre as well as State level, to provide free legal aid to poor and needy. But these boards have been largely inefficient in dealing with burgeoning number of cases. Due to the lack of awareness on the part of the accused/victim, and the lack of initiative and coordination between the police and the legal aid authorities, there are huge discrepancies between what the law mandates to the accused and what they actually get.

  1. Physical Mistreatment of Prisoners

The problem of physical mistreatment, by fellow inmates and/ or prison officials, is a perpetual problem, which the Prison administrations have continuously proven to be incapable of handling primarily because of poor infrastructure, coupled with adverse prisoner-official ratio.

  1. Rehabilitation

Rehabilitation of prisoners is a very important function of the prison authorities, as recognised by the Indian courts on several occasions. A prison is now looked at as more of a correctional facility than a detention one.

A person committing a crime that takes him behind the bars is to be tutored to follow the laws of the society for the benefit of his own self as well as his fellow countrymen. Moreover, considering the fact that a major motivation for crime in most cases is money, it is the duty of the prison authorities to ensure that a prisoner is taught enough skills to ensure his financial sustainability beyond prison. But due to lack of funds, overcrowding and other issues, rehabilitation is not yet effective in most prisons of the country.


Tihar jail is one of the largest detention facilities in the world. Hence, it is bound to have faced every problem that a prison in India faces, including the ones mentioned above. But the Delhi Prisons Authority has continuously ensured an adequate living condition for all its prisoners by taking various reformative steps. In this case study, we will review what these steps are and how they were implemented to make Tihar jail what it is today.

  1. Expansion

Tihar jail has been continuously expanding since its establishment in the Tihar village area of Delhi in 1958. Originally, till the year 1980, Tihar consisted of one central jail with a sanctioned capacity of 1273 prisoners[2]. This prison, around the mid 1980s was trifurcated into Central Jail No. 1, 2 and 3 with a collective capacity of 1760 prisoners. In 1980, another district jail was constructed in Tihar with a sanctioned capacity of 740 prisoners. This jail was elevated to Central Jail No. 4 in the year 1990. In 1996, a special prison was constructed for adolescent prisoners between the ages of 18 to 21. This jail, Central Jail No. 5, had a capacity to lodge 750 prisoners. In the year 2000, an exclusive women’s jail, Central Jail No. 6, was commissioned with a capacity to lodge 400 female prisoners. Between 2003 and 2005, three Central Jails with a collective capacity of 1550 prisoners and one District Jail (at Rohini) with a capacity of 1050 prisoners were commissioned by the Delhi Prisons Authority.

At present, another jail under the Tihar Prisons Authority, known as the Mandoli Jail Complex, is being constructed. It has a tentative capacity to lodge as many as 3500 prisoners. The salient features of this Mandoli Jail Complex are[3]:

  • The complex will house 6 Jails one for convicts, one for first time offenders, one each for long term under trials, adolescent, women and High Security prisoners.
  • Air Circulation System in all wards.
  • No electrical fixtures inside the wards.
  • Inbuilt mechanism for CCTV, Optical Fiber Cable Network.
  • Dual water supply system, Solar Heating System, R.O. System, Sewage Treatment Plant, Rain Water Harvesting.
  • Energy conscious buildings.
  • Provision of separate prison for High Security prisoners and First Time Offenders to ensure total segregation.

Therefore the issue of over-crowding has been tackled by continuous expansion by the Tihar jail. It is a different story that even today; the actual population of prisoners in the Tihar jail is almost twice as much as the sanctioned capacity.

  1. Special Courts

Shri A.S Anand, Hon’ble Chief Justice of India (Retd.) rightly expressed his concerns regarding the increasing number of under trial prisoners lodged in the various jails of India. In order to curb this problem, the Delhi High Court directed the Ld. Chief Metropolitan Magistrate of Delhi to organise special courts in the Central Jail of Tihar for petty offenders[4] and were willing to confess. The first special court in Tihar was organised in the May of 2000, and since then, as of December 2011, 130 such Courts have been organised in Tihar Complex on monthly basis and cases of 5127 prisoners have been decided and disposed off, leading to a win-win situation for both, the under trials as well as prison authorities.

  1. Semi Open Jail

The Tihar Jail has recently established a new wing in the Tihar Complex, Janakpuri, New Delhi which is known as the Semi Open Jail. This is the first of its kind in India.

The Semi Open Jail, along the lines of the concept of Open Jails, is being used to lodge the prisoners who have been sentenced to life and have less than 2 years of that sentence left to serve and have a good track record.

The inmates of semi-open jails have a chance to step out of their cells and earn a wage fixed by the government, though only within the 400 acre campus of the Tihar jail complex. They are allowed to work in PWD, horticulture and other contract based jobs inside the Tihar premises. They also run Tihar Canteen and the Tihar haat, which are official outlets for selling the things which are produced in the factories of Central Jail No. 2.

This semi open jail, apart from further reducing the overcrowding in the Central Jails, provide these inmates with the opportunity to readjust into the society after such a long stay inside the prison cut off from the real world altogether. This is a major step towards their rehabilitation after the release, which could be helpful for them and their family by making them lead a relatively normal life once they are released from the prison.



4.       Free Legal Aid

Government organisations like the Delhi Legal Service Authority (DLSA), National Legal Service Authority (NLSA) and the Delhi High Court Legal Services Committee (DHCLSC), along with many other NGOs, thrive to provide free legal aid to the prisoners of the Tihar Jail, as mandated by Article 39 (a) of the Indian Constitution.

The DLSA has set up a free legal aid and counselling centre in the Tihar Jail Complex to provide free legal help to the poor inmates who are in need of it but cannot afford it.

The following are the features of Legal Aid activities in the Jails[5]:

  • A Free Legal Aid Cell is functioning in each jail in which stationery items, typing material, books, photostat machines etc. are provided by the Prison administration.
  • DLSA has 28 advocates on its roll, who are regularly visiting the Legal Aid Cells of the Jail and giving legal aid. They are also assisted by the advocates of the various NGOs.
  • DHCLSC has 17 advocates on its roll for arguing the petitions/appeals of prisoners.
  • Regular drafting of application/petition/appeal of the prisoner by advocates and Para Legal Aides formed by the legally literate prisoners is done. These Para Legal Aides are being given regular training so that Legal Aid schemes may function smoothly and its benefits may reach deserving prisoners.
  • The matter of release of young prisoners, woman prisoners, sick, infirm or old aged inmates are taken up on priority with the Courts.
  • Custody parole to the convicts on the occasion of marriage, death, serious illness etc. is being routinely allowed by Jail Superintendents.

  1. Educational Facilities

The Tihar Jail authorities provide immense educational opportunities to the inmates during their stay. The curriculum is designed in such a way that even after their release, the people can easily continue their education in the outside world and lead a better life. As the website of the Delhi government asserts, an illiterate person landing in Tihar Jail can look forward to being literate if his stay is more than a week.

The most important aspect of the education system in Tihar Jail is that educated prisoners voluntarily teach less educated prisoners.

The educational activity in Tihar Jail are organized at different level for different categories of prisoners like illiterates, neo-literates, semi-literates, literates and for those desirous of getting higher education. There are study centres of Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) and National Institute of Open School (NIOS), from where a prisoner can pursue his studies and he is given certificate/degree for that course without mentioning the place of examination being a jail. Literate inmates are provided training and then help the Prison administration in imparting education to other inmates. Special attention is given to illiterate inmate so that he may be able to read and write his name within a week time. Advance educational avenues are available to prisoner so that if they want to pursue higher studies they may do so through IGNOU etc. Special attention is also given for the prisoner appearing for various competitive examinations.[6]

All the costs, including the fees, the stationary and anything a prisoner might need for a proper education, is borne by the Government.

Ensuring proper and adequate education to the prisoners is a huge step towards reformation. As it has been continuously observed, one of the major reasons for crimes throughout the world is lack of education and unemployment. Education helps the inmates to make themselves capable enough to work in the outside world on release and hence, lead a crime free life. Moreover, education to the prisoners makes them more aware of their rights and responsibilities. Hence, it ensures a miscellaneous welfare of the prisoners.

As a part of vocational training, the products being made inside the prisons are marketed outside. In fact, there is now a brand name “TJ” under which various products being produced by Tihar inmates are sold, and revenue earned. There are Tihar Haats across Delhi which exclusively market such products, and have a loyal band of consumers.

  1. Campus Placements  at Tihar

The placement drive at Tihar was started in the year 2010 as a part of the rehabilitation program for the prisoners and to ensure a bright future and rehabilitation. In the year 2014, there was a record 100% placement of the Tihar inmates in various factories and companies on the basis of the vocational skills and certificates those inmates managed to earn during their stay in the Tihar Jail.

  1. Recreational Facilities

Various programs like the “Tihar Olympics” and the “Ethnic Tihar” ensure good light hearted recreational facilities for the inmates of the Tihar jail.

Tihar Olympics is a winter sports festival organised in the Tihar jail consisting of sports like volleyball, cricket, basketball, kho kho, kabaddi, carom etc. The Ethnic Tihar on the other hand is held during the spring season and consists of competitions like music, dance, painting etc. Eminent personalities from the field of sports and culture are invited during these competitions to boost the morale of the prisoners.

All Religious and National festivals are celebrated by one and all inside the prisons. On Republic Day and Independence Day National Flag is hoisted in all the prisons. All religious festivals like Holi, Diwali, Id, Guru Parv, X-mas etc. are celebrated by one and all. On Rakshbandhan Day sisters/ brothers are allowed to meet the inmates and tie Rakhies. Sweets are prepared inside the prisons and sold to the visitors. This is a big occasion which helps the jail administration to convey to the prisoners that “We Care”.[7]

According to the 2012 Annual Review of the Tihar Jail, a cricket academy has been established at Tihar in association with the NGO Divya Jyoti Jagriti Sansthan to give quality training to those inmates who are interested in learning and playing cricket. For this purpose Mr. Rajendra Pal, coach of the famous cricketer Mr. Kapil Dev, was invited and requested to select Tihar XI. The selected team is being coached to enable them to play matches with outside visiting teams. This encourages community participation in the reformation activities, which ultimately will help the prisoner in his rehabilitation.

According to an article in IBN Live website (9 January 2013)[8], recently Tihar Jail launched Tihar Idols, inspired by the successful musical reality show ‘Indian Idol’. About 350 contestants and many elimination rounds later, the winning bunch has now become the first worldwide to cut a commercial music album from inside a jail.

All these not only help the prisoners to make a creative use of their leisure time inside the prison, but also help them to recognise their talents and encourage them to pursue the same once they are released from the prison, hence reforming them into better human beings.

  1. Medical Facilities

The medical care inside the Tihar jail is managed by experienced medical and para medical staff from the Delhi Government Health Services. The prison authorities thrive to provide a round the clock medical care, and also refer prisoners to speciality and super speciality hospitals if required.

The basic features of the medical care in Tihar jail are[9]:

  • 150 bedded Hospital with Medical, Surgical, Tuberculosis, Psychiatric Wards, round the clock casualty services.
  • A minor Operation Theatre in Central Jail Hospital.
  • Round the clock Dispensary with Medical Observation Room facilities in all Jails headed by Senior Medical Officers.
  • Special treatment and special diet to old and sick prisoners.
  • ICTC Centre at Central Jail Hospital.
  • OST Programme being initiated in DAC.
  • Regular Health check-up Camps by the Jail Doctors and NGOs.

In the year 2007, a drug de-addiction centre was also established in the Tihar jail.  It is noticed that most of these drug addicts are repeaters and are arrested for petty offences, with most being vagabonds or jhuggi dwellers working as labourers / rickshaw pullers / truck drivers etc.  In most cases, crimes are being committed by drug addicts to meet their requirement of drugs, the addiction for which is chronic in most cases. The de-addiction centre is well-equipped to handle such chronic cases with empathy and compassion, and has shown encouraging results.


In this paper, we see the various problems faced by the Indian Prisons which violate the prisoners’ right to a humane treatment inside the prisons and the various reformation steps taken by the Tihar Jail in solving these problems and working for the extensive welfare of the prisoners both during and after their stay in the Tihar.

Though we see how after all these steps, overcrowding still remains the biggest evil in the Prison Systems of India including the Tihar Jail.  One of the major reasons for this is the lodging of under trial prisoners and petty offenders in the prisons.

The best way to deal with this problem is by resorting to GPS tracking system.  These ankle bracelets use a combination of GPS satellite signals and built-in GSM /GPRS (mobile phone) signals. It communicates with a personal transmitter unit (PTU). The PTU must be carried on the offender’s person, on a shoulder strap or around the waist. If the communication between devices is interrupted, an alert goes out. The prisoner and the authorities get messages and alert tones[10]. Thus the under-trials are free to carry out their day-to-day activities, yet are constantly under the eye of the law. This already has a huge presence in the American prison system and has proved to be working very efficiently.

This tracking has proved much cheaper than actually keeping the offender inside the prison and bearing all his costs. This also helps the government to keep track during the probation or the furlough period of the offender and hence makes the parole/furlough rules more relaxed for the prisoners, hence benefitting the prisoners in turn.

Apart from that, we see how Tihar Jail has successfully carried out a number of welfare programs for the prisoners including education, recreation and free legal aids to help them during their stay in the prison. Such schemes need to be replicated in other prisons of the country. The other prisons in the country should take Tihar Jail and Delhi Prisons Authority as the model in order to work for a better and more efficient working.

It is also imperative that adequate fund allocation is provided by the Government, and also to be generated from inside the prisons by emulating the Tihar model, so that the stay and subsequent rehabilitation of the unfortunate prisoners does not get affected due to lack of funds.

Akshay Goel
Hidayatullah National Law University (Raipur)
E-mail Id:

[1]Sudipto Roy, Jail Reforms In India: A Review, 11 Kriminologija I Socijalna Integracija, 34, 33-40 (2003)

[2] Govt. Of NCT of Delhi, History, 1 (accessed 12 May 2014)

[3] Govt. Of NCT of Delhi, History, 1 (accessed 12 May 2014)

[4] “Petty Offences”, according to the writ 681/99 of the Delhi High Court means (i) minor offences where gravity of the offence is less and the punishment is not going to be very severe; or (ii) the offences in which the prisoners involved, being first offenders, may be entitled to benefit of probation; or (iii) may be let off by the courts on payment of fine only

[5] Govt. Of NCT of Delhi, Free Legal Aid, 1 (accessed 28 May 2014)

[6] Govt. Of NCT of Delhi, Reformation, 2 (accessed 28 May 2014)

[7] Govt. Of NCT of Delhi, Reformation, 1 (accessed 29 May 2014)


[9] Govt. Of NCT of Delhi, Medical Care and Hospital Administration, 1 (accessed 29 May 2014)

[10] LandAirSea, GPS Tracking and the American Prison System, 1 (accessed 29 May 2014)


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