Better Prison Architecture

Lieutenant-Governor (L-G) Vinay Kumar Saxena has directed the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) to allocate 1.6 lakh square meters of land to Delhi’s prison department for the construction of a district prison complex in Narela.


  • President of India’s Speech: President Draupadi Murmu shared a glimpse of her journey with the audience at the Supreme Court’s Constitution Day celebrations in November 2022.
  • Prisoners are unaware of their rights: She reflected on her visits to Indian prisons and the circumstances of those imprisoned. She emphasized that these people were frequently unaware of their fundamental rights and had been imprisoned for lengthy periods for minor offenses, while their impoverished families were unable to bail them out.
  • All state organs must collaborate: President Murmu emphasized the importance of collaboration between the judiciary, executive, and legislature in order to assist them, and concluded by poignantly asking: How can we claim that we are progressing as a nation if we are still building prisons to address the issue of overcrowding?

What is the Prison’s problematic architecture?

  • Delhi’s maximum security prison: In phase 1, which is expected to be completed by April 2024, a high-security jail with a capacity of 250 high-risk prisoners will be built in the complex.
  • The prison administration has incorporated stringent security measures into the design, such as constructing high walls between cells to prevent inmates from viewing and interacting with one another, as well as building office spaces between cells to facilitate surveillance.
  • Torture with intent: Prison architecture is frequently used to monitor, torture, and break the souls of inmates.
  • Physical and mental health of prisoners: The Delhi prison administration is essentially creating solitary confinement with this prison design, which will have a severe negative impact on prisoners’ mental health.

Present condition of prisons in India

  • Prisons in India are still governed by the Prisons Act, 1894, a colonial legislation that treats prisoners as second-class citizens and provides the legal basis for retributive, rather than rehabilitative, punishment.
  • Laws with caste biases: These laws are also heavily casteist and have remained largely unchanged since they were drafted by the British. Some jail manuals, for example, continue to emphasize purity as prescribed by the caste system and assign work in prison based on the prisoner’s caste identity.
  • Colonial mindset in prison governance: Organizations like the Vidhi Centre of Legal Policy have gone a step further in identifying colonial legal continuities that India must shred and how she can do so.
  • The SC/ST community suffers the most: Furthermore, Dalits and Adivasis have a disproportionate representation in Indian prisons. The report ‘Criminal Justice in the Shadow of Caste’ by the National Dalit Movement for Justice and the National Centre for Dalit Human Rights explains the social, systemic, legal, and political barriers that contribute to this. Police can target them for reported crimes under legislation such as the Habitual Offenders Act and Beggary Laws.

Way ahead

  • Preventive measures are required: We must take preventive measures before we realize we have gone too far down this road, subjecting several people to unnecessary trauma and confinement.
  • Prison reforms, not more prisons: With the warning signs blaring, we must amplify President Murmu’s message about the need to incarcerate and stop building new prisons, so that the L-G takes appropriate steps in that direction.

@the end

Many prisoners in India continue to suffer minor offenses due to a lack of education and legal assistance. More than 70% of them are economically disadvantaged. Before building more prisons, the government must address police misconduct and judicial delays.

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