With Bollywood star Sanjay Dutt behind bars, prison life is being viewed afresh by the media.
Down south in Andhra Pradesh, prison deaths have been rising over the last few years, which experts say is due to the dearth of doctors and medical facilities. From 80 deaths in 2001-02, they rose to 129 in 2005-06.
Prison records give that there are 15,664 prisoners in the 133 jails across the state as on July 14. Yet, there are only 23 doctors to attend to the medical needs of all state prisoners.
In addition, if doctors are deputed to a prison, more often than not, they will be unavailable. In most cases, even emergency medical care remains a mirage.
Says human rights activist K Murali, who was appointed by the State Human Rights Commission to survey the condition of prisons across the state: "One fourth of the deaths take place on the way to hospital. If timely medical help is rendered, many deaths can be prevented."
In ideal conditions, the state's nine central prisons should have three doctors each and each of the ten district prisons should have two doctors to look after the health care of prisoners. But with just a total of only 23 doctors, some district prisons have to make do with doctors on annual contract basis.
"Whatever little health care is available in prisons is limited to district and central prisons but not in sub jails ", explains Murali.
Usually the ailments suffered by prisoners range from acidity to conditions as serious as AIDS. Tuberculosis is also common among prisoners.
Yet, the kind of medical help available is pitiable.
In addition, none of state jails for women have permanent gynecologists. Murali pointed out this fact in his book 'Andhra Pradesh Prisons: Behind Closed Doors' published by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative.
Since prisons cannot recruit doctors on their own, it is dependent on the government to depute more medical help. "Each time we seek more doctors, we are told that how primary health care centers need doctors more urgently," explains a prison official, adding that deputing doctors to prisons is clearly a low priority.
"There is a dearth of doctors and we have written to the government about it," says S K Jaychandra, DG (prisons).
Yet, health officials who receive these requests maintain that they depute doctors as and when they receive requests.
"We depute doctors when they are required by the prison department. They are deputed on permanent basis," says deputy director (health) K Srinivas Reddy.
Yet it is quite obvious that doctors themselves are not too keen on taking jail postings. The situation is indeed grim what with 89 per cent of prison deahts belonging to the age group of 21 to 65 years.