Vol VIII, Issue 3 Date of Publication: July 02, 2023
DOI: https://doi.org/10.20529/IJME.2023.040

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Death and denial of care in Indian prisons

Meenakshi D’Cruz
Custodial death is generally linked in the public mind with police brutality and torture, not with indirect brutality through negligence and callous treatment in jail custody. Yet it is not known how many of the thousands of prisoners who die in our jails every year died due to neglect by the jail authorities. The official Prison Statistics India (PSI) in its most recent report states that 1,879 men and women died due to “natural causes” in prisons across India in 2021. Natural causes are defined in the report as “illness” and “ageing”. According to the report, 185 more prisoners died of “unnatural” causes, and 52 of “causes not yet known”. [1: p 179]. “Unnatural deaths” include “deaths due to negligence or excesses by jail personnel”1. The vagueness of this classification in the PSI data had been noted by Justice Lokur in a landmark Supreme Court judgment, in 2013, when he said: “The distinction made by the NCRB [National Crime Records Bureau] between natural and unnatural deaths is unclear. For example, if a prisoner dies due to a lack of proper medical attention or timely medical attention, would that be classified as a natural death or an unnatural death?” [2].

Copyright and license
©Indian Journal of Medical Ethics 2023: Open Access and Distributed under the Creative Commons license ( CC BY-NC-ND 4.0),
which permits only non-commercial and non-modified sharing in any medium, provided the original author(s) and source are credited.

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