Right of Women in Prison

With the rise of women inmates the need to regulate and establish women dedicated prisons has became the need of the hour. The purpose of prison, in the past was to punish the males, who violate the law and harm the society. However, the present scenario has changed; where women are equal to men in every walk of life, which can be also seen in women prison. By only constructing a prison the government’s duty does not end. There should be proper hygienic and sanitation care, required to be given to an inmate. Even though convicted of a crime prisoners have a right to basic human rights.


Prison- a place made for punishing people for the crimes committed by them. The word prison is now a gender-neutral term. In past years, prisons were only meant for men, but in this socially and economically growing era, prisons are a building for both, whoever commits a crime, is welcomed here. Now, it would be wrong to say that Crime is Male. Although, there is less number of female prisoners as compared to men, yet it does not mean that they will not be treated as females. They, however, often find themselves facing a lot of difficulties and laborious conditions, which are not highly favourable for them because earlier prisons were built for males, not females.

Considering today’s situation, it is important now to understand and appreciate rights available to women prisoners. Whereas, women in prison also live with their children (below 6 years of age), where there is a proper requirement for the health and care of the child. Women need to be treated differently from men as they have separate personal sanitation and hygiene needs. Therefore, the health of pregnant women is also a great matter of concern.  Indeed the world average of women prisoners is four per cent of that of men.

Women Jail

Women jails exist at all the levels like sub-divisional, District and Central levels. Women jails, by December 2017, were the only setup in 13States/UTs. Tamil Nadu being highest in having 5 women jails in total. A total population of 3019 convicts were registered in various women jails of the country against the total strength of 5400 female inmates by 31 December 2017. The highest rate of women inmates was recorded in Delhi. There was also once noted a full 100% occupancy in 3states (West Bengal, Maharashtra and Bihar).

Factors responsible for crimes committed by women

The mentality, society and biological pressure forces an individual to commit the crime. Various reasons for committing a crime can be – financial crisis, adolescent age for fulfilling the need of the child, learned behaviour where they come from the family aspect responsible for the individual mentality and even some times, crime is committed to just show dominancy over the companions. Media also plays a crucial role in developing an individual’s personality like a person can apply the same solution for getting rid of his problem by watching a crime movie or series. The main reasons for committing a crime by a woman can be- lack of love, illiteracy, immorality, cruelty, lack of proper training, broken homes, surroundings, interference in privacy, bad health or modern liberal atmosphere.

Difficulties faced by Women in Prisons

Prison Staff

Almost every nation faces, a deficiency of the female workforce in the prison, which urges the male staff to deal with the female prisoners too. And which result in exceedingly undesirable assistance by male staff individuals upon ladies detainees.

Sanitization and Hygiene

Indeed, even the essential offices of sanitation and cleanliness are neglected. As it is additionally unmistakably referenced in the Prison Manual that there ought to be one toilet and one bathing cubicle most extreme ten prisoner, however, it is once in a while followed anyplace in the nation.

Insufficiency of water is faced by a prisoner, which degrades the level of sanitation and hygiene as against the minimum standard estimate of 135 litres for each prisoner by the Manual.


Decent human living standards for prisoners were recommended by National and International Guidelines. The National Prison Manual has even plainly referenced the size for cells and barracks in jail.

The Minimum Standards Rules are further direct that dormitories ought to be painstakingly furnished to individuals appropriate to live with one another and windows where prisoner live or work will be sufficiently enormous to empower the prisoner to peruse or work by common light.

Congestion/ Over-Crowding is one of the key issues tormenting the prisoner’s facilities in the nation. The national normal occupancy was reported for at 114.4% in 2015. The impacts of overcrowding often become even more pronounced in the case of women, as they are normally limited to a smaller enclosure of the prison because of the absence of proper infrastructure for them.


The right to health incorporates with providing health care that is accessible, available, authorized and of praiseworthy quality. In most of the occasions, there is inaccessibility of gynaecologists. A woman suffering from mental health, psychological instability is mainly overlooked in prison because of the absence of legitimate offices. 

In 2015, there happened 51 death of women prisoner in totality out of which 48 deaths were the consequence of natural causes and three due to committing suicide

Legal Aid

According to National Prison Manual, the State governments are expected to appoint advocates for visiting jails, setting up legal aid clinic in all prisons, and giving appropriate approach towards legal to education classes, with the goal that the prisoners can be completely profited.

States ought to guarantee that District and State Legal Service Authorities are associated with jails to give free legal aid and to spread awareness about their rights among all the prisoners.


Episodes of violence, including sexual brutality by prisoners and authorities, have been reported for across the nation over. however, official reports underestimate the prevalence of violence, since prisoner fear reprisal, as they are compelled to remain in a similar place as their perpetrator.


Children up to the age of six are permitted to live with their mothers in prison if no different courses of action for their care can be made.

As per a 2009 BPR&D report, proper arrangement for biological, mental and social development of the child, crèche, and recreational facilities are not accessible in each jail. NHRC prison visits uncover that in many cases, other than a glass of milk, a sufficient diet for children isn’t constantly given.

According to Prison Statistics India Report, 2017 by National Crime Bureau Ministry of Home Affairs on women expresses that-

There were absolute 22 women jails with a limit of 5400 prisoners in India out of all total 23 States/UTs.

The occupancy rate in women jails were 55.91%.

There were 1681 women prisoners with children from an aggregate of 1454 women prisoners.

From the total numbers of women prisoner, just 365 were convicted and left in 1077 were under trial prisoners.

The total strength of women prison including officials and staff was 5248.

The absolute proportion of women jail has been upsurged by 12% midst 2012-2017 however has been additionally fallen by 5.6% during the same period.

50.5% of the women inmates lie in the category of 30-50 years old, 31.3% in the age group of 18-30 years.

Constitutional Status of women in India

Women prisoners are not provided by any particular guarantee under the Constitution of India. However, the Indian Constitution gives equal status to women. Article 14 of the Constitution provides equal protection of laws to the women in India and Article 15 prohibits the discrimination on grounds of sex. But still Indian women prisoners have to face a lot of problems. Even Government of India has passed the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 and has constituted the National Human Rights Commission for promotion and protection of human rights. Part IV of the Indian Constitution consists of the Directive Principles of State Policy which give direction to the State to provide economic and social rights to its people in a specified manner.

India has also ratified various International Conventions and Human Rights Instruments committing to secure equal rights of women. Key among them is the ratification of the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1993. Article 12(2) of this convention provides that States Parties shall ensure to women appropriate services in connection with pregnancy, confinement and the post-natal period, granting free services where necessary, as well as adequate nutrition during pregnancy and lactation.

Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that every person has the right to life, liberty and security of person and Article 5 states that no one shall be subjected to torture, cruelty or inhuman treatment. Article 10(1) of the United Nations Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that “All persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person.”  Therefore, both National as well as International Human Rights Laws, inhumane and degrading treatment to women prisoners is prohibited and the State is under obligation to uphold and ensure observances of basic human rights and constitutional rights of women prisoners in the prison. We cannot treat prisoners like animals and should not be punished except in accordance with laws.

Women Prisoner’s Rights

There are numerous rights provided to women in prisons by different committees appointed for prison reforms. These rights must be incorporated in the Prisons Act, 1984. As it is a matter of concern for States so it will be listed under the Seventh Schedule of the State list of the Indian Constitution. Various guidelines should be kept in mind while making Prison Manuals. Women rights with respect to human, constitutional and statutory rights, which should be available to them in prisons are-

  • The search and examination of the female prisoners shall be carried out by the Matron under the general or specific order of the Medical Officer.[i]
  • The female prisoners have the right to live separately from the male prisoners as explained in Section 27(1) of the Prison Act 1894 and also in Rule 8(a) of Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.
  • Section 31 of the Prisons Act, 1894 talks about maintenance of certain prisoners from private sources.
  • Section 33(1) of the Prisons Act, 1894 guides about the supply of clothing and bedding to civil and acquitted criminal prisoners.
  • All the prisoners should be provided with the basic human rights such as healthy food, shelter, medical care and facilities for reading and writing. All should be treated respectfully and cannot be detained in a private cell, except on medical conditions or if he/she was proven threatening for other prisoners.[ii] Women should be provided with full medical and personal care at the time of delivery and they have to be released on bail for the delivery.
  • Rule 53, Rule 23, Rule 24, Rule 25, and Rule 26 of The Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners should be taken care of and hence followed.[iii]
  • The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights(NCPCR) has advised that pregnant, ill or having children dependent women in jail should be considered for early release on personal bounds.[iv]
  • Article 39A of the Indian Constitution strengthens the female inmates to secure free legal aid by providing a legal system to promote justice, on the basis of equal opportunity and to ensure that no one is discriminated in prevailing the legal benefits irrespective of their economic conditions.
  • Section 303 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 privileges the inmates to be defended by the petitioner of their own choice. Section 304 deals with the legal aid cases which, should be in some cases provided at State expenses. Section 309(1) of CrPC, provides that the proceedings shall be held as soon as possible in every inquiry or trial.
  • Women prisoners have the right to a speedy trial. As held in Hussainara Khatoon v. Home Secretary, State of Bihar[v] that speedy trial is a fundamental right implicit under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.
  • Section 54 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 contains a proper examination of the body of an arrested person by a registered medical practitioner on the request of the accused person in case of torture and maltreatment in the jails. But commonly, women prisoners are unaware of this right.[vi]
  • Articles 72 and 161 of the Constitution of India, provides conferring powers to the President and the Governors of States to grant a pardon or show clemency towards the prisoners.[vii]

Rights for pregnant women in prison

During the time of pregnancy, the provisions of the National Model Prison Manual should be strictly followed to make temporary arrangements to release the pregnant lady at the time of delivery in a hospital near the prison. Court’s should be prior informed about the women’s pregnancy so that the court can grant bail at the time of urgency. Proper health checkups should be provided to the pregnant woman inmates.

The place of birth of the child born to a woman inmate should not be mentioned as the place of prison on the birth certificate of the child.

According to the National Prison Manual, the pregnant woman should be provided with proper diet as needed by a normal pregnant woman. After the birth of the child, for at least one month, the woman and the child should be provided with separate accommodation and other hygienic care for protecting the child from different types of infections. Women prisoners, should not be discouraged from breastfeeding their children.

Aadhar cards must be made for all the women prisoners and the newborn babies so that they get able to enjoy the benefits available to them under various government welfare schemes.

Children of women prisoners

The prisoner, if she is a mother, should be given a privilege to decide the prison, according to her child’s benefit. A proper environment should be created for children, so they don’t feel like criminals by living there. It should be the duty of the NGO’s, schools and paediatricians to look after the education, mental health and development of the children in prisons. Mothers should be provided with sufficient time to spend with their children.

Children should be provided with a healthy diet and there should be a regular checkup for the growth of children, physically and mentally once in a month by a Lady Medical Officer. Body cavity searches should never be applied to children. No child, above the age of six years, should be retarded in prison except in some cases.

In case of absence of any friend or family member to take care of the child, the child should be allowed to accompany the mother to prison in a Child Care Institution. The prison administration must ensure that the child should be provided with special care and advantage to meet his mother at least once a week.

Visit of children, should not be regulated and bounded by time, even the children should be allowed to visit overnight at least once in three months. A healthy, positive environment should be made for a meeting of the child and the women prisoner. The children of women inmates, above six years, should be provided with additional educational scholarships, by looking at the financial conditions.


One can acknowledge from this study that separate prisons are highly necessary in order to keep women, prisoners. India, thus do not have a proper quantity of prisons as per the increasing rate of women prisoners. The personal requirements of women should be particularly fulfilled and taken care of at the foremost priority basis. To reduce the burden of jails, the number of under-trial prisoners lessens down. The behaviour of the staff members need to be enhanced towards the women prisoners and if needed be provided with proper training sessions.

Legal awareness programmes should be conducted on a regular basis, women should be aware of their rights. Pregnant women should be granted bail, at the time of their delivery and women with children dependant on them should be shown mercy. Lady Doctors, a lady staff member should be appointed for duty in women jails. Fast track courts should be initiated to reduce the burden of under trial prisoners over prisons.  The basic aim behind punishing women prisoners should be for reformation and rehabilitation of the female inmates and for attaining the objective the jail manuals should be prepared in consideration with a minimum standard of prison rights.

[i]The Prison Act,1894,Section 2, 1894,Section 24(3).




[v](1980) 1 SCC 81.






  • Prisons Act,1894
  • Prison Manual,2016
  • The Protection of Human Rights,1993

Possible Questions:-

  • How many women jails exist in India?
  • What are the problems faced by women in jails?
  • What are the articles that protect women under the Constitution of India?
  • What are the relevant provisions described in the Criminal Procedure Code for inmates?

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