The coronavirus outbreak in jails with Jaipur accounting for a large chunk has sparked worries of new cluster cases, as authorities released thousands of prisoners on parole or bail to decongest crowded prisons in the country to try halt the spread of the infection in closed settings.
The release of prisoners as a precautionary measure from the last week of March followed a direction by the Supreme Court, and more jail inmates are expected to come out in the next few days. The bail and parole are for a initial 45-60 day period which is extendable.
The apex court had asked all the states and union territories to constitute high-level committees to consider releasing on parole or interim bail prisoners and undertrials for offences entailing up to a seven-year jail term, to decongest prisons in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The top court on March 23 said overcrowding of prisons is a matter of serious concern, observing it was difficult for prisoners to maintain social distancing.
Concerned over the spread of coronavirus infection to nearly 150 prisoners in Jaipur jails, an official on Sunday said the Rajasthan government may take a decision on Monday to conduct random sampling of prisoners lodged in other prisons in the state.
After COVID-19 cases were reported in the Jaipur district jail, the prison authorities got all the inmates and staff members tested for the virus.
In the district jail which is home to 423 inmates, the jail superintendent and 130 inmates have tested positive so far. A few cases were reported from the Jaipur central jail as well.
"All the inmates and staff members of Jaipur district jail have been tested for coronavirus. Cases have come up from one ward in the central jail also and now we have decided to conduct random sampling in other wards of the central jail, said DG (Prisons) NRK Reddy.
In Jaipur district jail, Reddy said a prisoner who came in early April was the source of infection. He was asymptomatic when he was kept in isolation in initial days and later suffered from low blood pressure and diarrhoea. He was tested for COVID-19 and the report came positive on May 9.
In the meantime, the jail superintendent and a few other inmates got infected.
The cases in Jaipur district jail spiked on Saturday when 119 prisoners tested positive. On Sunday, 14 prisoners (12 from central jail and two from district jail) also tested positive for the virus.
After the death of an inmate in Agra Central Jail due to COVID-19, a senior official said the Uttar Pradesh Prison Administration and Reform Department has started random testing of samples for coronavirus in all the prisons of the state.
Fourteen jail inmates were quarantined following the death of the prisoner on May 8, Anand Kumar, DG of the Department of Prisons Administration and Reform, told PTI.
He said 13 jail officials who looked after the barrack where the prisoner was lodged were also tested for COVID-19.
At present, there are 71 operational jails in UP with over 94,000 inmates. So far, more than 16,000 inmates have been released either on bail or parole, Kumar said.
"Even today, there are 94,000 inmates in jails against a capacity of 60,000. Overcrowding is a problem. We are still 1.5 times above the sanctioned capacity," he added.
In the first case of COVID-19 at a Punjab prison, a 48-year-old woman inmate at the Ludhiana jail has tested positive, an official said.
The woman, who tested positive on May 1, is facing charges under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act. She was brought to the prison by the Sangrur Police on April 28.
The Punjab government has so far released 9,773 inmates from all the jais, the official said.
In the national capital, officials said a total of 3,500 inmates were released from three jails--Tihar, Rohini and Mandoli. Tihar jail is Asia's largest prison complex.
Days after a 28-year-old inmate of Rohini jail tested positive for coronavirus, 15 others who shared a barrack with him and one head warden have also tested positive on Saturday for the infection, officials said.
Jail authorities said when they started the process to decongest in March, the prisoner population in the three jails was 17,500 as against the sanctioned strength of 10,000.
With several inmates being released, the population in the jails has come down to around 14,200 but the process of more coming out will continue, they said.
Authorities in Maharashtra have released over 7,200 prisoners so far, an official said, adding, around 10,000 more will be released shortly.
"The pre-lockdown population in the 60 prisons across the state was over 35,000 and so far we have released over 7,200 inmates temporarily to decongest the jails," the official from the prisons department told PTI.
Over 100 inmates and staff of central Mumbai's Arthur Road Jail had recently tested positive for COVID-19, the official said.
The pre-lockdown population of Arthur Road Jail was 2,300, of which around 700 prisoners were released, he said. There are 1,572 inmates in the jail now, he added.
In Tamil Nadu, prisoners were provided with smart phones and inmates are allowed to make video calls to their family members in a bid to avoid crowding of jails by visitors.
More than 6,000 inmates were released on bail from different prisons, an official said.
As a result, the present strength of prisoners in 135 plus jails, including nine central and five special prisons for women, in the state is approximately 13,500 as against the authorised capacity of about 23,000, the official told PTI.
The Bihar government has shifted around 4,500 prisoners from overcrowded jails to lesser-crowded ones but has not released a single inmate either on parole or interim bail, a senior officer said.
When asked why no prisoner was enlarged on interim bail or released on parole despite the apex court's order, IG (Prisons) Mithilesh Mishra said the inmates were not released as they might become vulnerable to coronavirus and later spread the infection once they return to the prison.
Nearly 6,500 prisoners were released from jails in Madhya Pradesh since the coronavirus outbreak, an official said.
The state has around 131 jails, of which more than 75 per cent was overcrowded, he said. The jails have a total capacity for 28,500 prisoners.
Over 3,550 inmates, including 300 lodged in detention camps, were released from jails across Assam since March, a senior official said.
Of them, around 1,700 prisoners were released following the Supreme Court direction while others got out as per normal legal procedure, said Assam Inspector General of Prisons Dasarath Das.
He said the state's 31 jails currently house 8,510 inmates against the sanctioned capacity of 8,938.
In Gujarat, nearly 2,500 of the 14,000 prisoners have been released from 28 jails, according to Additional Director General of Police, Prisons, K L N Rao.
In Haryana, nearly 4,000 of the 20,000 inmates in 19 jails, including three central prisons--one in Ambala and two in Hisar were released, an official said.
In Chattisgarh, as many as 3,418 prisoners, mostly undertrials, came out of the jails.
In a bid to prevent spread of COVID-19 in prisons in Kerala, the state government will admit remand prisoners only if they test negative for the virus. The state has already granted remission and parole to several inmates.
The swabs of remand prisoners will be taken and tested for the virus and till the results arrive, they will be either lodged at hospitals or quarantine facilities arranged by the district administration, a senior prison official said.
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