At the end of 2015, 17,834 women were in Indian prisons, according to data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB).
Of these, 66% were undertrials, 32% were convicts and 1% were detenues and other prisoners, the data show. Foreign inmates accounted for 1.1% (199) of India’s women prisoners.
Between 2011 and 2015, the number of women imprisoned in Indian prisons rose 11.3%, an IndiaSpend analysis of data showed. In comparison, there was a 12.5% rise in the general prison population–from 372,926 to 419,623.
Uttar Pradesh (1,033) had the highest number of women prisoners (1,033), followed by Madhya Pradesh (603) and Punjab (543).
The highest proportion of women prisoners were in district jails (41.4%), followed by central jails (33.5%). Only 17%–or 2,985 women–were lodged in prisons for women.
As many as 51 women prisoners died behind bars in 2015; 48 were natural deaths while three were suicides. The highest number of deaths were in Uttar Pradesh (10), followed by West Bengal (eight), and Punjab (six). Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Puducherry reported one suicide each.
38% shortage of medical staff in Indian jails
Indian jails were 38% short of medical staff, according to NCRB data. Only 1,866 medical staff (men and women) were employed against the sanctioned number of 2,993. Between 2011 and 2015, there was a 79% rise in the number of women medical staff (including psychologists/psychiatrists) in jails– 92 to 165.
During the same period, the number of women jail officers rose 14.6%. The year 2015 had 4,391 women jail officers/staff of which 2,928 or 67% were jail cadre staff.
Indian prisons home to 1,866 children
At the end of 2015, there were 1,866 children living in prisons with their mothers–1,597 women. Of these, mothers of 70% (1,310) children were undertrials.
Among the states, Uttar Pradesh had the highest number of children growing up in prisons (422), followed by West Bengal (257), Bihar (175) and Madhya Pradesh (175). Five states and five union territories had no children living in prisons.
Letting a child grow up in prison is a controversial provision that has sparked debate: Children are allowed to live with their jailed mothers until the age of six in India.
Growing up in restricted spaces, children sometimes miss any sort of education and may not be able to recognise what is obvious to other children, such as “the difference between an elephant, a needle and a tractor,” BBC reported in November 2005.
Children should not be deemed as convicts and “should be provided with food, clothing, separate utensils, adequate sleeping facilities, and other necessary facilities,” guidelines issued by the Supreme Court in 2006 said.
“Women prisoners with children have very little say in how they are treated,” wrote Sukanya Shantha, a researcher with Amnesty International, in this May 2016 Scroll column.
“And growing up in sub-standard prison conditions is far from conducive to a healthy childhood. Clearly, there’s a pressing need for the state government and the judiciary — and even civil society — to do much more.”