After over 180 positive Covid-19 cases were detected across Mumbai’s Arthur Road Jail, the Maharashtra Prisons Department has decided to increase the number of prisoners being temporarily released in the state from 11,000 to 17,000. This is around half the pre-lockdown population in prisons across the state.
A high powered committee, constituted according to Supreme Court directives to lay down steps to decongest the state’s prisons in the wake of the Covid pandemic, held a meeting on Monday after 185 cases were detected in Arthur Road Jail — which include 158 inmates and prison staff — and one case was detected in Byculla Jail.
Home Minister Anil Deshmukh told The Indian Express on Tuesday the decision was taken based on the recommendations of the committee — chaired by Justice AA Sayed and comprising Additional chief secretary Sanjay Chahande and Director General of Prisons SN Pandey.
On March 26, the Maharashtra government had announced that nearly 11,000 inmates — both undertrials and convicts incarcerated for lesser and non-henious offences that attract less than seven years of maximum sentence — would be released either on provisional bail or parole.
Since March 28, over 5,200 undertrials have been released on conditional bail. The process of release of convicts started on May 8 and so far, around 500 inmates across the state have been released on emergency parole.
In a video on Twitter on Tuesday, Deshmukh gave further details. “Among the prisons in Maharashtra, Arthur Road Jail has around 185 coronavirus positive cases. All of them are being treated. To avoid spreading of such infection in other jails, state government has decided to release 17,000 of the inmates from the (pre-lockdown) population 35,000. Of them, around 5,000 undertrials have already been released. We will now be releasing around 3,000 prisoners who have been sentenced to less than seven years of imprisonment. And 9,000 more inmates who have been undergoing sentence of more than seven years, will also be released. Thus of the 35,000 population, upto 17,000 will be releases temporarily.” He added that the move will not apply to those incarcerated under serious crimes, heinous crimes, serious or large-scale fraud and those booked under stringent acts such as MCOCA or MPID.
A Prisons Department official said, “Convicted prisoners whose sentences are above seven years shall be considered for release on emergency parole only if the convict has returned on time to the prison from the last two prison leaves — parole or furlough.”
According to officials said the committee has recommended a list of norms for the release of inmates. In both types of temporary release — bail to undertrials or parole to convicts — the prisoners are initially being released for 45 days or till the state government withdraws the notification issued under the Epidemics Diseases Act, whichever is earlier. The initial period of 45 days shall stand extended periodically in blocks of 30 days each.
According to the Maharashtra Prisons Department website, jails in Maharashtra had a population of a little over 35,000 when the release process began.
Severe overcrowding is prevalent in several British-era prisons — Yerawada Central Jail in Pune (inmate count of 5,717 against the sanctioned count of 2,449), Mumbai’s Arthur Road Central Jail (3,718 against 804), Thane Central Jail (4,035 against 1,105), Kalyan District Prison (1,971 against 540) and Byculla (514 against 200).
Since April 9, a complete lockdown of five heavily overcrowded prisons in Mumbai, Thane and Pune has been ordered in the backdrop of rapidly-growing Covid cases. Under the lockdown, no new inmates are being admitted in these prisons and medically-cleared prison staff members have remained inside the prison facility till further orders.
Further, to accommodate the new inmates coming to jails across Maharashtra, buildings near individual jails have been identified where they can be housed in custody.
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