The top court said that many of prisoners are lodged in jail because they have got bail but could not furnish sureties while some are lodged in jails for petty offences, who could have got bail long back.
"It's unfortunate that the prisons are over-crowded. Prisoners also have human rights and they cannot be kept in jails like animals," a bench of Justices M B Lokur and Deepak Gupta said.
It said, "Some of the jail inmates have got bail but they cannot be released as they cannot furnish sureties. Some are lodged in jail for petty offences under which they should have got bail long back."
The top court said, "What's the point in talking about prison reforms when we cannot keep them in jail. We should release them, if you cannot keep them properly."
The court's remarks came when it was informed that there are over 600 per cent occupancy in various jails of the country.
The bench was also critical of legal service authority lawyers who do not ensure they are released and said that top court has held 30-40 years back that even prisoners have human rights.
The top court had on February 21 asked the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) to look into the issue of overcrowding of prisons and furnish figures before it regarding the population in the jails where occupancy was over 150 per cent as on December 31 last year.
It had asked an advocate, who is assisting the court as an amicus curiae in the matter, to look into the issue of rehabilitation and welfare of women prisoners as well as their children, including the aspect of education of such kids.
It had asked NALSA Director Surinder S Rathi to ascertain through the member secretaries of the state legal services authorities, the number of vacant posts lying in major prisons in all states and union territories.
It had also asked for the issues related to standard operating procedure for Under Trial Review Committees (UTRCs) and responses received from states and union territories on open jails.
The committee, set up in every district, deliberates and recommends the release of undertrial prisoners and convicts who have undergone their sentences or are entitled to be released from jail due to bail or remission granted to them.
Semi-open prisons or open prisons allow convicts to work outside the jail premises and earn a livelihood and return in the evening. The concept was brought in to assimilate the convicts with the society and reduce their psychological pressure as they faced lack of confidence in leading normal lives outside.
The top court is hearing a matter relating to inhuman conditions prevailing in 1,382 prisons across the country.
It had earlier expressed shock at the large number of people languishing in jails in "complete violation" of their rights despite recommendations for their release by the legal services authority and had termed the situation as unacceptable.
In September last year, the top court had also passed an order on the issue of custodial deaths and said this was a crime and such incidents indicated the "apparent disdain" of the state to the life and liberty of prisoners.
It had also passed a slew of directions over unnatural deaths and on prison reforms across India.