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‘One-fourth jails in India report Covid-19 cases, many ‘highly’ congested’: Report, The Hindustan Times

The Hindustan Times 
16 September 2020

The National Campaign Against Torture (NCAT) said 351 of 1,350 jails across 25 states and Union territories in the country have reported Covid-19 cases till August 31.

A non-government organization (NGO) on Wednesday said that 26 percent of India’s 1,350 jails have reported Covid-19 infections since the outbreak of the pandemic in March, adding that most of these jails are “highly” congested.

The National Campaign Against Torture (NCAT) said 351 of 1,350 jails across 25 states and Union territories in the country have reported Covid-19 cases till August 31.

“Among the Covid-19 infected prisons, 52 prisons had overcrowding from 101 percent to 312 percent as of 31.12.2018 as per the ‘Prison Statistics of India -2018’ of the National Crime Records Bureau,” the report, ‘Status of Covid-19 in Indian Prisons’, stated.

The report highlighted that there was a direct correlation between overcrowding in jails and the Covid-19 cases. In Mumbai Central Jail and Tihar Jail in Delhi, the number of inmates is almost three times of the sanctioned capacity, the number of inmates getting infected was also high.

“We may not conclusively say that congested jails reported higher Covid-19 cases as sufficient data is not available. However, states such as Punjab and Rajasthan moved prisoners from congested jails to lesser congested ones to prevent spread of Covid-19,” said NCAT coordinator Suhas Chakma.

A study by Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative in July said that about 61,100 inmates or about 15.4 percent of total prisoners were released from jails in a bid to decongest the jails because of the pandemic. “The overall reduction of 15.4 percent in overall occupancy is not adequate to address the overcrowding of 40 percent of the Indian prisons,” Chakma said.

As Covid-19 started spreading in jails, several state governments took steps, such as mandatory quarantine for new prisoners in temporary jails, mandatory Covid-19 tests for new inmates and release of those inmates arrested for non-heinous crimes, to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Maharashtra prison department spokesperson Shahu Darade said they imposed strict lockdown at each prison with staff not allowed to go home for a month and new prisoners tested for Covid-19. The state created 78 temporary prisons, released 11,000 prisoners in past five months and tested half of 26,000 inmates for Covid-19, he said. So far, around 9 percent of the inmates have tested positive.

Odisha’s additional director general of police (prisons) Santosh Upadhyay said every new prisoner testing positive for Covid-19 was send to Covid Care Centers. “The inmates are being sent to regular jails only after their recovery,” he said. Odisha released around 17,000 under-trials and moved 1,202 to lesser congested prisons.

Like Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh director general (prison) Anand Kumar said new prisoners were first lodged in 85 temporary jails for 14-day quarantine before sending them to regular jails where they were put in 14 days quarantine again. In addition, all 1.32 lakh inmates and staff in UP jails have been tested for Covid-19. Till now, 7,295 Covid-19 positive cases have been reported from UP jails of which 6,129 have recovered, he said.

Besides following protocol for jails as enumerated above, Rajasthan Director general (DG), prisons, BL Soni said, special Covid Care Centers were set up for inmates and prison staff who tested positive for the infection. “We are also giving special immunity-boosting diet to prisoners,” he said.

Chakma said the report shows that the infection was fast spreading in jails and Covid-19 protocols were not being followed. “States are not proactive in providing information on Covid-19 cases in jails and that prevents effective intervention,” he said.

(With inputs from bureaus in Mumbai, Lucknow, Bhuvaneshwar and Jaipur)

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