10K prisoners released as Covid tally in Maharashtra jails reaches 599
Yerawada jail reported three positive cases, all at the temporary jail established at BARTI hostelUpdated: Jul 13, 2020 16:44 IST
As various prisons in Maharashtra have reported 599 Covid positive cases, the jail administration has been able to free up space inside the prisons by realising over 10,000 prisoners in the past two months.
The number of prisoners in 47 jails across Maharashtra is now 26,046 excluding the ones in temporary jails established in various districts, according to statistics provided by the prison department.
While the decongestion process has led to a decreased population, it remains to be seen whether it has helped the overcrowding.
Maharashtra has a total of 64 jails. The 64 jails include nine central jails, 28 district jails, four sub-jails, one women’s jail, one borstal school, 19 open jails, one special jail and one uncategorised jail.
At the end of 2018, Maharashtra jail capacity was 24,095 - 22,830 male and 1,265 female - while the occupancy was 35,884 - 34,264 male and 1,620 female. Overall, the jails were 148.9% occupied. Therefore, the jails in Maharashtra were housing 11,789 more people than they are equipped to.
Over crowding at Central Jails
The maximum overcrowding among all jails in Maharashtra was in central jails at 170.70% with 25,333 inmates residing in space meant for 14,841. Therefore, Central jails were housing 10,492 inmates more than its capacity. Which also means that major portion of the overall overcrowding was concentrated in central jails of the state.
The nine central jails include Yerawada central jail, Aurangabad central jail, Arthur road Mumbai central jail, Taloja Navi Mumbai central jail, Nagpur central jail, Amravati central jail, Nashik central jail, Thane central jail, and Kolhapur central jail.
To function at its capacity, the central jail population needed to decrease by 10,492. However, the nine central jails collectively managed to shed overcrowding by only around 6,500.
“We are fairly relieved by the number of prisoners released. It has freed quite a bit of space. It will be heartening if more prisoners are released. After all, until a vaccine or a cure is found, everyone is vulnerable,” said Sunil Ramanand, additional director general of police, Maharashtra Prisons.
Rejection of bail applications
According to Dr Vijay Raghavan, professor, Centre for Criminology and Justice, School of Social Work, Tata Institute of Social Science (TISS) and project director of Prayas the problem of continued overcrowding is related to the rejection of bail applications by the judiciary, despite High Powered Committee (HPC) guidelines to consider releasing undertrials from certain categories.
“If these bail applications had been passed, more than 17,000 prisoners would have been released. The prison department had forwarded the bail applications to the courts, but the discretion to release on bail lies with the courts,” he said.
“The courts are responding to these applications as if these are normal times, but we need to realise that these are extraordinary times. There is a lack of sync between the directions given by the high court to maintain hygiene and social distancing in prisons, HPC guidelines to release prisoners and the lower courts passing bail orders,” he said.
“Some of the reasons for rejection include issues like the assistant public prosecutor’s say not being on record, case papers not being available, as only 30 per cent court staff is available and so on,” said Dr Raghavan.
“These releases are based on HOC recommendations which have two dimensions - temporary bail and government release for convicts. The rules are in black and white. The final discretion is of the courts. HPC can only suggest conditions and recommendations do not have the force of the law,” said Sunil Ramanand, additional director general of police, Maharashtra Prisons.
The overcrowding in central jails is followed by district jails which were housing 8,680 inmates in the space meant for 6,938 inmates - 125.11% capacity.
In women’s jail, the capacity was overflowing at 159.16% with 417 women living in space meant for 262.
The decongestion process helped in three phases - one for under-trials, one for convicts in cases under seven years jail term, and one for convicts in non-serious cases with more than 7 years jail term.
The first process of releasing under-trials started after a state-level High Powered Committee (HPC) had laid down rules for choosing who should be released. The HPC was formed in each state based on the Supreme Court direction.
The second decision was issued on May 8 and the third on May 11 by the same HPC.
The topic of decongestion of jails has been in discussion for the past several years. A three-member committee led by Dr Sundaram Radhakrishnan, a retired High Court Judge, for prison reforms had suggested decongestion as an effort in its report in 2017-18.
Two NGOs have also been working with the prison department to grant financial and legal help to prisoners who could be released from prisons.
Three Covid-19 positive cases reported at temporary jail at Yerawada
-Among the 599 Covid positive patients across the state, Yerawada jail reported three positive cases, all at the temporary jail established at BARTI hostel.
-One of them earlier succumbed to the Sars-Cov-2 infection while two were found positive on Saturday.
-“We are taking several measures such as regular health check-ups of inmates, following norms like social distancing and sanitisation in Maharashtra’s most crowded jail,” said UT Pawar, superintendent, Yerawada prison.
-Yerawada jail is one of the five jails in the state which is under complete lockdown.