Mumbai: Three in four prisoners in India's jails are under trial, according to government data for the year 2020, the latest year for which such data are available. This is the highest share of undertrial detainees in prison since at least 1995, the earliest year for which such data are available. While the total number of prison inmates rose 1% from the previous year, the number of undertrial inmates increased by nearly 12%, according to the Prison Statistics India 2020 report. Over half the undertrial inmates were in district jails, which are overcrowded: An average district jail runs at an occupancy rate of 136%.

The release of undertrials declined by 19.6% in 2020, compared to 2019. Some of the reasons for release from prison include acquittal, release on bail, release on appeal, transfer, extradition, and other releases during the course of the year. There is a lack of awareness among undertrials about parole and bail rules, IndiaSpend reported in September 2020.​​ For instance, in 2020, only one-third of inmates who are eligible for early release under section 436A of the Code of Criminal Procedure (Cr.P.C.)--which provides for the release of undertrials who have undergone more than half the prison term for the accused offences--were actually released.

The share of inmates belonging to marginalised communities did not reduce. Two in three undertrial inmates belonged to either Scheduled Caste (SC), Scheduled Tribe (ST) or Other Backward Classes (OBC) in 2020 as well. People from these communities are vulnerable to illegal detentions, false confessional statements and arrests and they often have no means to seek bail, our September 2020 report found.

Share of undertrial inmates rises

The number of convicts in prisons fell by 22% in 2020, compared to the previous year, while the number of undertrial inmates increased by 12%. As a result, undertrials now comprise 76% of inmates in 2020, up from 69% in 2019. The share of undertrial inmates has not exceeded 75% since 1998, when the NCRB reports are available.

In states with over 10,000 prisoners, the share of undertrials increased the most in Punjab (19 percentage points) and Haryana (17 percentage points).

Further, 4% of undertrials (15,167) were women, up by 12% from 13,550 in 2019.

Over 90% inmates in Delhi and Jammu & Kashmir are under trial

Delhi and Jammu & Kashmir reported the highest share of undertrial inmates of the total prison inmates, followed by Bihar, Punjab and Odisha and Maharashtra. Of these, Delhi, Jammu & Kashmir, Bihar and Maharashtra also reported an occupancy rate of over 100%.

2 in 3 undertrials belong to marginalised caste groups

Two in three prisoners under trial belong to SC, ST or OBC caste groups, data show. Two in five undertrial inmates were educated below grade X and more than a quarter were illiterate. Caste prejudices and over-policing of certain communities are important social factors behind the significant presence of marginalised caste groups in jails, our September 2020 report had found.

Release of undertrials under Section 436A

In 2020, there were 1,291 undertrial prisoners who had been in jail for a period more than half the sentence for the accused offences cumulatively. Section 436A of the CrPC allows for the release of are eligible for release on personal bond. However, only 442 such prisoners (34%) were released in 2020.

There was an 18% decrease in the number of prisoners released on bail as well, from about 1.5 million in 2019 to 1.2 million.

3 in 10 undertrials confined to prison for over a year

Nearly 2% of the undertrials in 2020 had spent over 5 years in confinement, up from 1.5% in 2019. Overall, 29% of all the undertrials had spent over a year in prison.

Of the states which had over 10,000 inmates, Tamil Nadu, Bihar and Punjab are the only states where over 80% of the undertrials had spent less than a year in prison. Maharashtra had the highest percentage of undertrials in confinement for over a year (40%) followed by Gujarat (36%).

Nearly half the undertrials are aged 18 to 30

Among the undertrial inmates, 49% are between 18 and 30 years of age, but among convicts, only 29% fall in this age group. Further, 50% of the convicts are aged between 30 and 50 years. Of the larger states/UTs with over 10,000 inmates, Delhi has the highest population share of undertrials under the age of 30 (64.3%), but only 33% of the convicts are under 30 years of age. It is followed by Chhattisgarh (61.5%) and Karnataka (57.9%).

We welcome feedback. Please write to respond@indiaspend.org. We reserve the right to edit responses for language and grammar.

Donate to IndiaSpend

Support IndiaSpend’s award-winning investigative journalism.

Your tax-deductible contribution to IndiaSpend will help us, and other publications around the country, reveal critical stories that otherwise wouldn’t be told - stories that make a difference!