We hear success stories of male prisoners who are rehabilitated and taught vocational skills, but this are rarely heard so for women. Women prisoners are an ignored in all sections, the penal system is far less kind to them than it is to men.
The CHRI (Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative) found that when there is overcrowding in jails, women are forced to share space with men. They are made to sleep on floors, without proper bedding even in the winter.
The MPM (Model Prison Manual forms the basic guidelines on the conduct of prisons, which states are expected to adhere to by adopting it into their own prison manuals) provides for women doctors, superintendents, special care for pregnant woman, and regular health checks. In most jails, all these facilities are not provided. In many jails women get much less amount of food than men. There seems no consistent policy to deal with women inmates across India.
This is important to note that the female prison population in India has risen by 61% in the last 15 years as opposed to the male rate of 33%. Yet, infrastructure for women is inadequate and poor. There is also lack of attention to women’s health in jails. Constant fear and harassment, together with terrible sanitation and living conditions cause mental stress and trauma. A study found that at least 1.2% of women inmates suffered from mental illnesses, which are rarely treated since there are hardly any mental health experts available. Provisions for privacy, even proper bathing facilities, are not available in many jails, as per local reports.
Children can only stay with women prisoners till the age of six. This means that the woman is often traumatised, thinking about her child or children. Many women have very little knowledge about their legal rights they rarely get legal aid.
Many women in jail are there because they are far more vulnerable to police cruelty, which makes them confess to crimes they may not even have committed.
There is a definite need to improve conditions in jail all round. The idea of open jails and more access to legal aid would go a long way to improving the lot of women in prisons. But for now, it seems that system is ignoring the women prisoners.