Mumbai: Over the past decade, Indian prisons have increasingly had more undertrial prisoners, with their share increasing from 66% of prisoners in 2012 to 76% in 2022, as revealed in the latest Prison Statistics India report released by the National Crime Records Bureau. While this figure rose each year, the greatest rise was seen in the pandemic year of 2020, when undertrial prisoner share rose from 69% to 76%.

A primary contributing factor to this trend is the indiscriminate arrests carried out by the police, often without proper consideration, as IndiaSpend reported in August 2022. Individuals belonging to marginalised communities are disproportionately impacted from these unwarranted detentions. Other factors such as limited access to legal assistance and difficulties in meeting bail conditions contribute to the heightened likelihood of underprivileged individuals spending time in prison without being convicted.

To throw light on this issue better, IndiaSpend is launching PrisonWatch, a comprehensive portal that aggregates prison statistics data concerning undertrial inmates in India, spanning the last 25 years since 1997, when the first compilation of detailed prison statistics was released by the NCRB. The primary objective is to analyse patterns within the growing undertrial inmate population and identify trends across states over the years. The compiled data include demographic information, age, duration of confinement, and the nature of the crimes involved.

3 in 4 prison inmates are undertrials

Delhi, Bihar, and Jammu & Kashmir report the highest proportions of undertrials in their prisons. In smaller states and Union territories, Manipur and Chandigarh have observed a decline in the share of undertrial inmates. Among larger states, Maharashtra and West Bengal have experienced a reduction in the percentage of undertrial prisoners since 2021.

76% inmates in Indian prisons were undertrials in 2022

Share of undertrials highest in Delhi, Bihar and Jammu & Kashmir

In Delhi, the share of undertrials in prison has been rising in the past decade, but the biggest jump was in 2020 when the share increased from 82% to over 90%.

In Delhi, share of undertrial prisoners jumped to 90% in 2020

In Bihar, the number of convicted individuals has declined since 2019, but the number of undertrials has nearly doubled from 2019 to 2021. Bihar also tops the charts for the highest influx of new inmates, surpassing Uttar Pradesh in total new admissions in 2022.

In Bihar, the number of undertrial prisoners has nearly doubled between 2019 and 2021

In Jammu & Kashmir, the percentage of undertrials dropped from 90% to 86%, but the share of detenues has increased.

86% of prisoners were undertrial in Jammu & Kashmir in 2022

Caste-wise trend in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka

Among larger states with over 1,000 undertrial prisoners, Tamil Nadu has the highest percentage of undertrial inmates from underprivileged castes. This is followed by Karnataka, where this drastically increased in 2018.

2 in 3 undertrial inmates are SC, ST or OBC

A majority of the undertrials belong to oppressed caste groups including the Scheduled Castes (SC), Scheduled Tribes (ST) and Other Backward Classes (OBC), as IndiaSpend reported in December 2023. Caste prejudices and over-policing of certain communities are important social factors behind the significant presence of marginalised caste groups in jails, experts told IndiaSpend. When exacerbated by poverty, the high cost of litigation, and the poor quality of free legal aid, the result is that social inequities in society get replicated inside of prisons.

More undertrials increasingly held for over a year

In Himachal Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir, nearly half of the undertrial population spends more than a year in prison without a court verdict. In other states such as West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, and Rajasthan, over a third of undertrials endure imprisonment for more than a year. Meanwhile, in the southern states of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala, over 90% of undertrials spend less than a year in prison.

31% of undertrial inmates spend over a year in prison

A May 2017 Law Commission report requires courts to impose “reasonable conditions for bail”, to reduce the time spent by undertrials in prison, as IndiaSpend reported in August 2022. It should not insist on local sureties, as it may not be possible for the accused person to ensure compliance of such conditions despite granting of bail.

3 in 4 undertrials are below grade X in West Bengal

Limited access to education also limits access to legal aid. In the north eastern states of Meghalaya, Tripura, Nagaland and Assam, over 80% of undertrial inmates have not completed school education. In West Bengal, over three-quarters of the undertrial inmates have not completed 10th education.

65% undertrial inmates have not completed Class X education

The number of illiterate undertrial prisoners has more than doubled in West Bengal in the last decade

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