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542 prisoners released from jails in Maharashtra after HPC order; bail pleas of 12,751 pending

Following the May 11 order of the high power committee (HPC) to decongest overcrowding in prisons, in the wake of the second Covid-19 wave, in all 542 prisoners have been released from jails either on emergency bail or Covid parole
By Vijay Kumar Yadav, Mumbai
PUBLISHED ON MAY 27, 2021 11:36 PM IST

Following the May 11 order of the high power committee (HPC) to decongest overcrowding in prisons, in the wake of the second Covid-19 wave, in all 542 prisoners have been released from jails either on emergency bail or Covid parole. However, as bail applications of over 12,000 prisoners remain pending before various courts, jails across the state are still overcrowded despite releasing over 10,000 prisoners last year, on emergency bail/parole.

The HPC which, believed the second wave Covid-19 is more virulent and lethal, recommended that the concerned magistrate courts in the state, consider the pending applications for interim bail of the 12,751 under-trial prisoners liberally and on a priority basis for the sake of the safety and welfare of the prisoners.

These 12,751 applications for interim bail have pending since last year. For the effective de-congestion in jails, this issue needs to be addressed on a priority basis, said a prison official.

According to the prison department as of May 26, 483 and 59 prisoners have been released on bail and emergency parole, respectively, following recommendations of HPC dated May 7 and May 1, 2021.

As new prisoners continue to be admitted, the prison population has gone up substantially again.

As per the latest statistics, there are 32,362 inmates lodged across 46 jail in the state against the capacity of around 24,000 prisoners. It is also pertinent to note that over 10,800 prisoners, who have been released during the “first wave” of Covid last year, have not been called back and continue to remain on interim bail/emergency parole.

As per the official data, the prison population was reduced from 36,061 as of March 31, 2020, to 26,379 as of July 31, 2020, due to the temporary release of eligible prisoners, following the decisions of the HPC. Hence, the impact of the first wave of the pandemic was thereafter diluted and the situation in the prisons had improved in the context of the spread of coronavirus.

However, considering the decline in numbers of new Covid-19 cases, the government relaxed the movement restrictions. As a result, regular crime reported to police increased again, thus the number of arrests and accused being sent to judicial custody also gradually increased.

From 26,379 prisoners on July 31, 2020, the population in state jails has now reached 34,733 as of May 11, 2021.

At present, there are 212 Covid infected active patients (prisoners) in state jails. To date total of 4,023 prisoners got infected by the virus and 13 have succumbed to the disease, since April 2020. Around 840 prison staffers, of the 902, who tested positive, have recovered and nine have succumbed.

Another prison officer said that the prison department has a minimum role in the release of prisoners on bail for decongestion, however, it has been adopting other measures to curb the spread of the virus. The department has set up over 41 temporary prisons and Covid care centres (CCC). “Almost all prisons in the state has one temporary prison and a CCC,” said the officer.

Most of these temporary prisons are set up in schools and colleges. After the lockdown restrictions were relaxed last year, these temporary prisons were returned to the respective educational institutes.

“Unlike last year, this time we would be keeping these temporary prisons functioning as part of our preparation to tackle surge in cases, in case of the third wave,” said a senior prison officer.

The process of acquiring buildings for the creation of additional temporary prisons is still on.

Steps taken to prevent the spread of Covid in prisons:

- Over 41 temporary prisons have been established in the state. Of these, 10 double as Covid Care Centres, where asymptomatic and mildly symptomatic inmates are isolated.

- New inmates are accepted only after RT-PCR tests and kept in temporary prisons until their test results are obtained.

- Those who test negative are then admitted to a regular prison

- Prisoners/inmates above the age of 60 are kept in separate barracks or hospital ward where there are special facilities available e.g. special toilets, equipment etc

- Prisons are sanitised every week. Special attention is being paid to toilets

- Use of sanitisers, soap, face masks and social distancing, both by inmates as well as prison staffers

- Nearly 73,000 Covid-19 tests on inmates and 4,707 on prison staffers have been undertaken so far

- 3,456 vaccine jabs were administered to the prisoners

- 3,252 staffers out of 3,818 have been vaccinated and the process of vaccination of the balance staffers is in progress

- A total of 124 smartphones and 73 coins box sets have been provided for prisoners/inmates to communicate with their lawyers as well as family members.

- The video conferencing facilities between the prisons and courts have been put to use for communication with lawyers.

- A total of 10,811 prisoners/inmates have been released on emergency parole or interim bail following the outbreak of the pandemic.

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