In the time of Covid-19, Tihar allows virtual meetings between prisoners, families

Officials said virtual meetings started in jail numbers 4 and 6 last week. The facility will be extended across all the 15 jails in the complex -- Mandoli, Rohini and Tihar.
None of the prisoners have met their family members since the visits were cancelled in March. Earlier, prisoners were allowed to meet their members twice a week. They would also meet during court hearings. (HT archive)
None of the prisoners have met their family members since the visits were cancelled in March. Earlier, prisoners were allowed to meet their members twice a week. They would also meet during court hearings. (HT archive)
Updated on Aug 22, 2020 11:17 AM IST
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Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By Prawesh Lama

Delhi’s Tihar jail authorities have started allowing virtual meetings between prisoners and their families months after they were forced to stop visitors from meeting their jailed relatives at the prison on March 24 in view of the Covid-19 pandemic that prompted social distancing measures to check its spread.

Officials said virtual meetings and the online court hearing have helped to the extent that they have no cases of active Covid-19 prisoners as on Saturday even as the complex is one of the largest and the most crowded in the country with around 14,000 prisoners. The last two prisoners, who had contracted Covid-19 on August 3, tested negative for the disease on Thursday, said Tihar’s director-general, Sandeep Goel.

Officials said virtual meetings started in jail numbers 4 and 6 last week. The facility will be extended across all the 15 jails in the complex -- Mandoli, Rohini and Tihar. HT had on July 28 reported the prison authorities would soon start virtual visits for prisoners.

None of the prisoners have met their family members since the visits were cancelled in March. Earlier, prisoners were allowed to meet their members twice a week. They would also meet during court hearings.

With so many prisoners, maintaining social distancing inside the prison complex is a challenge.

Of the 1,400 inmates in Uttar Pradesh’s Basti jail, at least 191 tested Covid-19 positive last week. Last month, of the 1,049 inmates in Ballia (Uttar Pradesh) district jail, 228 were found positive for the disease.

Tihar officials said they have managed to contain the spread of the disease because of the measures they have taken. The measures include isolating all new prisoners for the first 14 days in a separate cell before lodging them with other inmates. All court hearings are being held via video conferencing within the prison complex.

Goel said across all jails, prisoners are now interacting with their lawyers over video conferencing.

The first Covid-19 case inside the Tihar prison complex was reported on May 13. A total of 63 prisoners and 169 jail officials have tested positive to date. Two prisoners, both elderly inmates, died of the disease on June 15 and July 4, while others have recovered. Among jail officers, two are still Covid-19 positive.

A prison officer, who did not wish to be named, said, “During the early days of the [Covid-19] lockdown, many feared that the disease would spread rapidly inside Tihar and controlling it would be difficult. It is a result of many measures that we managed to contain the virus compared to other jails in the country. We suspended the visits of all outsiders. Around 4,000 have been released on interim bail and parole. All court hearings are held virtually and so are the prisoners meeting with their lawyers. Also, we started in-house production of masks and sanitisers. There is no shortage of those essential items.”

Some prisons in the UK and the US are offering similar virtual visitation facilities to cope with the restrictions on movement and interactions necessitated by Covid-19. Byculla jail in Mumbai has started video conferencing for women inmates.

The prisoners in Tihar have also stayed in touch with their families through the telephone. Every prisoner is allowed a five-minute call every day.

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Sunday, October 17, 2021