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 and 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 an 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, said. 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 jails, 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.