PUCL Bulletin, March 2002

Reading Material for Jail Inmates
NHRC acts on
PUCL recomendations

Dr. Y.P. Chhibbar, General Secretary PUCL has issued the following statement:

"The National Human Rights Commission has laid down detailed guidelines on the subject of availability and supply of reading material to the prisoners. It has recommended to the competent authorities in all States and Union Territories to modify the existing rule and practices prevailing in prisons wherever they might be at variance with these guidelines.

"The recommendation of the Commission was formulated as a result of a letter from Dr. Y.P. Chhibbar, General Secretary PUCL.

"Dr. Y.P. Chhibbar had written to the Commission in March 15, 1998 that according to the Jansatta Delhi and The Indian Express Delhi of January 18, 1998 an inmate of Goa's Central Jail was denied the facility to receive reading material from outside. The inmate, Sudhir Sharma, a former student of Delhi University, was undergoing a sentence of 10 years' imprisonment in the Goa Central Jail. He wrote to the editor of a magazine and to some authors for sending reading materials to him. When the reading material reached the jail, these were not given to him. This seemed to be in contravention of a 1979 Supreme Court ruling saying, "… all other freedoms belong to him [a prisoner], to read and write… to creative comforts… to movement within the prison campus… to the minimal joy of self-expression… to enquire skills… all other fundamental rights tailored to the limitations of imprisonment" belong to him.
"The Commission considered the letter from Dr. Y.P. Chhibbar and formulated the following guidelines. These guidelines have "already been sent to the Chief Secretary of all the States/UTs for being circulated to all concerned persons in their respective jurisdiction for compliance on the question of supply/availability of reading material to the prisoners.

The Commission has been seized with the question of the nature and extent of reading materials to which prisoners should have access.

Having carefully considered this matter, the Commission would like to lay down the following guidelines on this subject:

  1. As prisoners have a right to a life with dignity even while in custody, they should be assisted to improve and nurture their skills with a view to promoting their rehabilitation and becoming productive citizens. Any restrictions imposed on a prisoner in respect of reading materials must therefore be reasonable.
  2. In the light of the foregoing, all prisoners should have access to such reading materials as are essential for their recreation or the nurturing of their skills and personality, including their capacity to pursue their education while in prison.
  3. Every prison should, accordingly, have a library for the use of all categories of prisoners, adequately stocked with both recreational and instructional books, and prisoners should be encouraged to make full use of it. The materials in the library should be commensurate with the size and nature of the prison population.
  4. Further, diversified programmes should be organized by the prison authorities for different groups of inmates, special attention being paid to the development of suitable recreational and educational materials for women prisoners or for those who may be young or illiterate. The educational and cultural background of the inmates should also be kept in mind while developing such programmes.
  5. Prisoners should, in addition, generally be permitted to receive reading material from outside, provided such material is reasonable in quantity and is not prohibited for reasons of being obscene or tending to create a security risk. Quotas should not be set arbitrarily for reading materials. The quantity and nature of reading material provided to a prisoner should, to the maximum extent possible, take into account the individual needs of the prisoner.
  6. In assessing the content of reading materials the Superintendent of the Jail should be guided by law; he should not exercise his discretion arbitrarily.

The Commission recommends that the above-stated guidelines be used by the competent authorities, in all States and Union Territories, to modify the existing rules and practices prevailing in prisons wherever they might be at variance with these guidelines.

(The PUCL State branches may take up the matter with the appropriate authorities for the follow up action. Director General of Prisons or the Minister in-charge of jails may be contacted - Y.P. Chhibbar, General Secretary, PUCL)

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