NLU Delhi’s detailed report titled “Death Penalty India Report” reveals shocking information about the socio-economic profile of prisoners sentenced to death. Some key extracts from the summary of the report are given below:
AGE: CLAIM OF JUVENILITY
18 prisoners in our study claimed that they were juveniles (below the age of 18) at the time of the incident for which they were sentenced to death…Of the 18 prisoners who claimed to be juveniles, we were able to access the trial court decisions of 15 prisoners, to discover that the claim of juvenility was not addressed in the trial court decisions in 12 cases.
PREVIOUS CRIMINAL RECORD
The prisoners sentenced to death in India forming a part of our study were overwhelmingly first time offenders with no prior criminal record. Of the 276 prisoners for whom information regarding prior criminal history is available through their accounts, 241 prisoners (87.3%) did not have any previous criminal record.
We have documented the economic vulnerability of prisoners in our study based on their occupation. While occupation cannot be determinative of poverty, we have used it instead as an indicator of economic vulnerability…Almost three-fourth of the prisoners in our study (74.1% or 274 prisoners) were economically vulnerable (Graphic 8). Of the 209 economically vulnerable prisoners, 63.2% of them were either the primary or sole earners in their families (Graphic 9).
The level of educational attainment is an important indicator of exclusion and marginalisation, and helps us understand more holistically the socio-economic profile of prisoners sentenced to death as at the time of the incident…As is evident from Graphic 11, 23% of prisoners sentenced to death had never attended school. A further 9.6% had barely attended school but had not completed even their primary school education, while a staggering 61.6% of prisoners sentenced to death had not completed their secondary school education. Of the 12 female prisoners, six prisoners had never attended school.
CASTE AND RELIGIOUS PROFILE
As is evident from Graphic 12, 76% (279 prisoners) of prisoners sentenced to death in India belong to backward classes and religious minorities, with all 12 female prisoners belonging to backward classes and religious minorities. While the purpose is certainly not to suggest any causal connection or direct discrimination, disparate impact of the death penalty on marginalised and vulnerable groups must find a prominent place in the conversation on the death penalty.
EXPERIENCE IN CUSTODY
80% of the prisoners in our study who spoke about their experience in police custody admitted to having suffered custodial torture. Not only was the number astonishing, the methods employed by the police while inflicting torture were inhuman, degrading and inflicted extreme forms of physical and mental suffering.
RIGHT TO BE PRODUCED BEFORE THE MAGISTRATE IN 24 HOURS
The Constitution and the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 contain several provisions to protect the accused from police excesses, but these proved to be ineffective in preventing investigating agencies from resorting to torture… However, of the 258 prisoners in our study who spoke about production before a Magistrate, 166 said that they were not produced before a Magistrate within 24 hours…
CONFESSION BEFORE THE POLICE
…Out of the 92 prisoners who said that they had confessed in police custody, 72 (78.3%) admitted to making confessions due to torture. The techniques employed to extract such confessions ranged from extreme physical violence to threatening harm to their family members…
LEGAL REPRESENTATION AT THE PRE-TRIAL STAGE
Article 22 of the Constitution guarantees the right of every arrested person to consult or be defended by a legal practitioner of her choice. Yet, interviews revealed that such provision failed to provide meaningful protection to the prisoners in our study. Of the 191 prisoners who shared information regarding access to a lawyer at the time of interrogation, 185 prisoners (97%) said they did not have a lawyer… Interviews with prisoners revealed that out of the 185 prisoners who did not have access to a lawyer during this phase, 144 were economically vulnerable (80%)…