Justice System Reforms

Entry type: Single project

Country/area: India

Publishing organisation: IndiaSpend

Organisation size: Small

Publication date: 2022-02-18

Language: English

Authors: Nileena Suresh, Shreehari Paliath


Nileena works as a data journalist at IndiaSpend. She is based in Mumbai.

Shreehari has reported on public policy around labour and employment, refugees, migration, agriculture, and water. He received a special mention at the 2019 Red Ink Awards. He has a post-graduate diploma from the Asian College of Journalism, Chennai, and a master’s degree in development from Azim Premji University.

Project description:

The two stories are a part of our reporting to highlight changes that need to made to the justice system in India. The stories use government data to depict the continuous problem of high undertrial incarceration in India and the reasons for it.

Impact reached:

Both stories were republished by online new outlets in India and reached over 2,000 accounts on social media. The World Prison Brief maintained by Institute for Crime & Justice Policy Research reposted one of the stories. By shining light on the the issue of incarceration of marginalised and oppressed communities the story exposes the issues that plague criminal justice in India.

Techniques/technologies used:

The stories tried to visualize and show government and non governmental data on incarceration in India. We used Tabula, excel and Google sheets. The tools used were supplementary to the nuance that we brought through our reporting. Tabula was used to convert the tables from the Prison Statistics India report PDF file into excel format for analysis. The reports from previous years were used to compare the share of inmates who are undertrial, and the trend in demography and duration of incarceration of undertrials over the years. Further, data on undertrials which was retrieved from a legal clinic functioning in few prisons, was used to show the progress made in jails where the clinic functions.

Context about the project:

Data on prisons are made available by the union government only once, in the end of the calendar year, as data are to be retrieved from state authorities. India does not have a dashboard for prison data. This leads to gaps in analysis and problems of transparency and accountability in the prison system. Often, organisations whose work specifically focuses on prisons and issues faced by incarcerated populations also suffer due to the delay. Reporting had to depend on data available, and primary data shared by organisations that were working with prisoners. But these were limited in geographical scope unlike government data, and may not necessarily be comparable. IndiaSpend is presently working on creating a database of undertrials across states.

What can other journalists learn from this project?

The stories can help fellow journalist comprehend the context and circumstances that have created a large incarcerated population. The charts and visualisation make it easier to absorb the reality. It underscores the need for reforms in the criminal justice system. While the release of data by the government is delayed, the data is sufficient to show inequity in justice and barriers faced by poor communities in accessing a fair trial, receiving bail, and indefinite jail time. If more writers and journalists can report across different regions in the country, the scrutiny can hasten the process of reforms.

Project links: