From Justice Definitions Project

Black's Law Dictionary defines prison as a public building or any other place for the confinement or safe custody of persons, whether as a punishment imposed by the law or otherwise in the course of the administration of justice.

In simpler terms, a prison is a place of confinement where convicts are sent to serve their sentence of imprisonment or for a person to stay in custody while they await the completion of their trial.

Official Definition

As per the VII schedule of the Constitution of India, prisons and other institutions of similar nature like reformatories and Borstal institutions and their administration are state-list subject giving the State government the exclusive power to legislate and govern on this matter.[1] Hence, they are to be governed by the respective legislations and Prison manuals of each state. However, pre-independence they were governed by the Prisons Act 1894 and The Prisoners Act 1900. The Ministry of Home Affairs has brought a Model Prisons and Correctional Services Act, 2023 which can be used as a guidance by the states & UTs.

Model Prisons and Correctional Services Act, 2023

Section 2(23) of the Model Prisons and Correctional Services Act, 2023 defines Prison as

“prison” means any jail or place used permanently or temporarily under the general or special orders of a Government for the detention of prisoners, and includes all lands and buildings appurtenant thereto, but does not include—

(a) any place for the confinement of prisoners who are exclusively in the custody of the police;

(b) any place specially appointed by the Government under Section 417 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (2 of 1974); or

(c) any place which has been declared by the State Government, by general or special order, to be a subsidiary jail.

Prison Manuals

The States' & Union Territories' prison legislations and rules have defined prison similarly with slight variations. For example, section 2(r) of the Delhi Prisons Act, 2000 defines prison as any jail or place used permanently or temporarily under the general or special orders of the Government for the detention of prisoners, and includes all lands, buildings, and appurtenances thereto but does not include:

i) Any place for the confinement of prisoners who are exclusively in the custody of police;

ii) Any place specially appointed by the Government under Section 417 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (2 of 1974),

iii) Any place which has been declared by the Government by general or special order to be a special prison.

Rule 2(aw) of Goa Prisons Rules, 2021 defines prison as any place used permanently or temporarily under the general or special orders of the State Government for the detention of prisoners, under Section 417 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 and includes all land and buildings thereto, but does not include:

(i) any place for the confinement of prisoners who are exclusively in the custody of police,

(ii) any place specially appointed by the State Government under Section 541, of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1882 (10 of 1882),

(iii) any place which has been declared by the Government by general or special order to be a special prison.

While some states like Uttar Pradesh follow the definition given in the Prisons Act, 1894.[2]

Other legislation relating to Prison

The state holds the power and duty to amend, restrict, change, and repeal the provisions of prison rules, regulations, and laws currently active in the country. Statutes which establish the ground for the regulation and management of prisons in the country are:

  1. The Indian Penal Code, 1860
  2. The Prisons Act, 1894
  3. The Prisoners Act, 1900
  4. Constitution of India, 1950
  5. The Transfer of Prisoners Act, 1950
  6. The Representation of People Act, 1951
  7. The Prisoners (Attendance in Courts) Act, 1955
  8. The Probation of Offenders Act, 1958
  9. The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973
  10. The Juvenile Justice (Care & Protection) Act, 2015
  11. The Repatriation of Prisoners Act, 2003
  12. Criminal Procedure (Identification) Act, 2022
  13. The Mental Healthcare Act, 2017
  14. Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita, 2023
  15. Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, 2023

Types of  Prisons & Correctional Institutions

Prison Establishments in different States/UTs comprise several tiers of prisons. The Prison Rules promulgated by the state governments[3] broadly classifies prison under the following heads[4] -

Central Prisons

They lodge both convicts and undertrials. Central Prison comprises those prisoners who are sentenced to imprisonment for more than 2 years. They have a larger capacity for providing accommodation to prisoners in comparison to other jails.

District Prisons

There is not much difference between the district prisons and the central prisons. Usually, they lodge undertrials; upon conviction, prisoners are sent to central jails. District prisons serve as the main prisons in those states and Union Territories of India where there are no central prisons.

Sub Prisons

Sub Prisons in India play the role of sub-divisional level prisons in India. They only lodge undertrials.

Borstal School

Borstal schools are youth reformation centres in India, where prisoners between the age of 18 to 21 years are kept with a special focus on their rehabilitation. These schools are unlike the prison system, as well as different from observation homes. Although observation homes perform similar functions, they may be government-regulated or privately owned.

They can be referred to as Institutions for Young Offenders which are prisons for young prisoners established to ensure their care, welfare, and rehabilitation, to provide an environment of education and training conducive to their reformation.[5]

Exclusive Women Prisons

They are prisons that exclusively confine female prisoners.

Semi Open or Open Prisons

These prisons lodge only convicts with good behavior, satisfying certain norms prescribed in the prison rules, and also allow them to be engaged in work to earn their livelihood. An open prison can be understood to mean any penal establishment in which the prisoners serve their sentence with minimal supervision and perimeter security, and are not locked up in prison cells. The concept is based on principles of self-discipline and “trust begets trust” which, if managed properly, can reform the human resource. The philosophy on the basis of which the open prison exists is reflected in the two dictums of Sir Alexander Paterson. First, a man is sent to prison as punishment and not for punishment. Second, one cannot train a man for freedom unless the conditions of his captivity and restraints are considerably relaxed.

The Model Prison Manual 2016 classifies open prison institutions in India into three types:

  • Semi-Open Training Institutions
  • Open Training Institutions/ Open Work Camps
  • Open Colonies

These institutions are graded in the increasing order of liberty granted to inmates and their potential for reformation and reintegration into society. All these institutions have a properly demarcated area beyond which inmates are not allowed to go.

Semi-Open Training Institutions are generally attached to the closed prisons just beyond the enclosed perimeter and are relatively more under security surveillance. Those prisoners who show reformation potential are made eligible for further transfer to open prisons and colonies.

Open Training Institutions/Work Camps are started in places where activities, like digging canals, water channels, construction of dams, roads, government buildings and prison buildings, projects of land reclamation, land development and bringing uncultivated land under cultivation, soil conservation, and afforestation, can be organised.

Special Prisons

States may categorise certain prisons as special jails. They can be prisons provided for the confinement of a particular class or particular classes of prisoners & provides limited access with the permission of higher authorities. However, no set criteria are prescribed to define what constitutes them.

It can be a High-Security Prison which is an independent self-sufficient prison complex with dynamic and strengthened security systems with provision for an independent Court complex, etc., to house convicted and undertrial inmates, who need to be kept in a high-security custody area, such as persons involved in terrorist activities, gangsters, dangerous prisoners, hardened criminals, habitual offenders, prisoners with a high propensity of escape, have the potential of rioting and negatively influencing other inmates, etc.[6]

Appearance in Databases

National Crime Record Bureau: - The Prison statistics in India.

The NCRB every year Generates, the manual for Prison statistics in India, which contains a brief description of Prison management and Regulations. It summarizes -

  1. Prison types and occupancy,
  2. Demography and types of prisoners,
  3. Segregation of prisoners as per their offences,
  4. Sentences and Incarceration of prisoners,
  5. Transfer, movement, inter-movement of prisoners,
  6. The health index of prisoners and prison environment (includes Rehabilitation drives)
  7. Jail Breaks, Escapes & Clashes/Group Clashes in Prisons
  8. The prison authority, staff, and officers
  9. Budget and Infrastructure

The latest Prison Statistics report was released of the year 2022.

India Justice Report 2022: Ranking States on Police, Judiciary, Prisons and Legal Aid

The India Justice Report is a unique national periodic report that consolidates previously isolated information to assess the effectiveness of the police, prison system, judiciary, and legal aid in each state. It measures their capacity against their respective standards or benchmarks.

The 3rd "India Justice Report 2022" examined data between 2020-2022, to study prison administration in India. The report ranks states based on parameters relating to diversity (women in prison staff) and prison occupancy, Undertrial inmates detained for 1-3 years, and Inmates (availing educational courses).

Indicator-wise data, state scores and ranks

Research that engages with 'Prison'

Inside Punjab Prisons

"Inside Punjab Prisons: A Study on Prison Conditions", a report published by Punjab SLSA in collaboration with Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative in 2022, sheds light on the prison conditions in Punjab. Based on the data collected over 4 years (2019-2022), the report revealed that 42.1% of inmates in Punjab jails are involved in NDPS Act cases. The number of overcrowded prisons in Punjab has risen from 10 in 2019 to 18–24. Further, urgent renovations are needed in at least 10 prisons, and 25% of staff positions are vacant. Out of 103 officers, only 3 are women in senior positions in Punjab prisons. At the time of admission, medical examinations were not conducted in 5 sub-jails, and medical officers failed to comply with procedures when reporting injuries sustained by prisoners during admission. Shockingly, 12% of the 660 prisoners interviewed alleged custodial violence within prisons. Additionally, 54% of those interviewed reported custodial violence during police custody. Inmates in 15 out of 24 prisons spoke of smuggling activities, while 12 out of 24 prisons alleged corruption. Issues related to the payment of wages and a shortage of budget for factories and manufacturing units were reported in 22 prisons. Women prisoners faced limited access to vocational training, legal aid clinics, hospitals, recreation, places of worship, libraries, and menstrual hygiene products. They also complained of caste-based discrimination.

The report highlights significant issues in the Punjab prison system, including overcrowding, a lack of staff, and gender disparity among officers. It also points out the need for better facilities and adherence to legal procedures for the welfare of inmates.

Inside Karnataka Prisons

"Inside Karnataka Prisons", a report published in 2022 by Karnataka SLSA and CHRI recording data over 2018–2022, sheds light on the systemic issues within prisons and captures the experiences and challenges of prisoners, prison staff, and legal aid functionaries. Regarding the physical infrastructure of most prisons in the state, the majority of them are aged structures. Out of the 51 prisons, only 18 were constructed after 2000. Due to their outdated designs, these prisons are inadequately equipped to meet new demands, such as video conferencing systems, legal aid clinics, and western toilets for elderly inmates. For transgender prisoners, the study found that only 4 of the visited prisons had dedicated barracks for them. Unfortunately, the vulnerabilities faced by the transgender community persist even within prisons.

To prevent individuals from getting lost within the prison system, the report highlights efforts to enhance connectivity between inmates, their families, and legal advisors. As of April 2022, a 'prison call system' has been implemented in district prisons, allowing prisoners to interact with their family members and legal advisors. Additionally, all central prisons now feature upgraded interview rooms with glass partitions and intercom phones on both sides.

Inside Haryana Prisons

"Inside Haryana Prisons", a report published by CHRI and Haryana SLSA in 2019, sheds light on the prison conditions in Haryana based on data collected between 2017 and 2018. The report highlighted several pressing issues faced by prisons in Haryana. Notably, 11 out of the 19 surveyed prisons were overcrowded, with overcrowding percentages ranging from 22.8% to 170%. The report also sheds light on the inadequate provision of essentials like oil, soap, and menstrual products. The study identified 48 foreign-national prisoners across 10 prisons who reported instances of racism and discrimination. Only 6 of them had been provided consular access, while five remained unrepresented by any lawyer. The report emphasized that the prisons were not lacking in infrastructural, food-related, or cleanliness standards. Instead, the primary issues stemmed from management and logistics challenges.

Looking Into the Haze: A Study on Prison Monitoring in India

"Looking Into the Haze: A Study on Prison Monitoring in India 2016" is a report published by CHRI that examines the state of prison oversight in India. It criticizes the ineffectiveness of Boards of Visitors, which are supposed to independently monitor prisons. It highlights the infrequency of visits and lack of scrutiny by these boards. The report paints a concerning picture of the Indian prison system, emphasizing the need for stronger independent monitoring to ensure the basic rights and well-being of prisoners.

Strangers to Justice: A Report on Foreigners in Indian Prisons

"Strangers to Justice: A Report on Foreigners in Indian Prisons," published by CHRI in 2019, focuses on the specific challenges faced by foreign nationals within the Indian prison system. It revealed that there were over 3,900 foreign nationals (FNPs) in Indian prisons as of January 2018. A significant portion, around 65%, came from Bangladesh. The report argues that FNPs face a unique set of challenges due to their foreign status. Communication difficulties, limited access to consular services, and a lack of understanding of the Indian legal system leave them particularly vulnerable. It sheds light on the plight of foreign nationals in Indian prisons and advocates for improved policies and practices to ensure they have effective access to justice and are treated humanely throughout their detention.

Circle of Justice: A National Report on Under Trial Review Committees

The “Circle of Justice: A National Report on Under Trial Review Committees (UTRCs)”, published by CHRI in 2016, is a critical examination of the UTRCs’ role in India, following the Supreme Court’s 2015 directive. It reveals that while UTRCs are established and operational, their effectiveness varies, with some districts showing good practices that could serve as models for others. However, the overall impact on the rights of undertrials is still uncertain, and the report calls for more consistent implementation to ensure that no individual is detained beyond the legally mandated period. The report underscores the urgency of addressing the chronic overcrowding in prisons and the need for regular reviews and legal aid for undertrials, aiming to strengthen the justice system’s accountability and protect individual liberties.

Understanding Open Prisons in India

The EPW article by Parikshit Goyal and Kamesh Vedula on open prisons in India advocates for a shift from the traditional punitive incarceration system to a more reformative and humane approach. It critiques the current closed prison system for its ineffectiveness and harsh conditions, which often fail to respect human dignity and rehabilitate offenders. The authors propose open prisons as a solution, highlighting their benefits in promoting rehabilitation through work opportunities, reduced restrictions, and the maintenance of family ties. They emphasize that open prisons can better align with the reformative theory of justice and constitutional rights, ultimately aiding in the successful reintegration of prisoners into society.

Similar Terms

The term jail is used interchangeably with the word prison in India in various legislations and prison manuals. Both mean a place appropriately arranged and equipped to lodge persons who by legal process are committed to it for safe custody while awaiting trial or for punishment.


  1. Constitution of India, 1950 Schedule VII, List II, Entry 4
  2. Uttar Pradesh Jail Manual 2022, rule 2(v)
  3. Goa Prison Rules, 2006, rule 21; Maharashtra Classification of Prison Rules, 1970, rule 2
  4. '101 Questions on Prisons - you didn’t know whom to ask' (Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, 2019) <> accessed 6 June 2024
  5. Model Prisons and Correctional Services Act 2023, s 2(26)
  6. Model Prisons and Correctional Services Act 2023, s 2(15)
Cookies help us deliver our services. By using our services, you agree to our use of cookies.