The State government has decided to temporarily release 17,000 inmates, 50 per cent of the pre-lockdown population in jails across the state, in the wake of more than 180 positive cases of Covid-19 at Arthur Road Jail in Mumbai and to avoid the spread of the infection inside jails in future.
A high-powered committee (HPC), formed as per Supreme Court directives to lay down steps to decongest prisons in the backdrop of the pandemic, held a meeting on Monday after 185 positive cases surfaced at Arthur Road Jail: 158 inmates and 26 jail staff have tested positive, along with one case in Byculla Jail. The committee has made further recommendations to the government, based on which the state prisons department has increased the number of prisoners slated to be released temporarily.
On March 26, the state government had announced that 11,000 inmates — undertrials and convicts incarcerated for lesser and non-heinous offences that attract less than seven years of maximum sentence — would be released either on provisional bail or parole. After the process of release started on March 28, more than 5,000 prisoners have been released on conditional bail. The proposed number of inmates to be released has now increased to 17,000.
On Tuesday afternoon, state Home Minister Anil Deshmukh said in a video tweeted from his account, “Among the prisons in Maharashtra, Arthur Road jail has has around 185 coronavirus positive cases. All of them are being treated. To avoid spreading of such infection in other jails, the state government has decided to release 17,000 of the inmates from the (pre-lockdown) population of 35,000. Of them, around 5,000 undertrials have already been released. We will now be releasing around 3,000 prisoners sentenced to less than seven years of imprisonment. And 9,000 more inmates, who have been serving a sentence of more than seven years, will also be released. Thus, of the 35,000 population, up to 17,000 will be released temporarily.”
Prison department officials said the HPC had recommended the list of norms for the release of the inmates. In both types of temporary release — bail to undertrials or parole to convicts — prisoners are initially being released for 45 days or till the state government withdraws the notification issued under the Epidemic Diseases Act, whichever is earlier. The initial period of 45 days shall stand extended periodically in blocks of 30 days each.
Deshmukh added, “This will not be applicable to those who are incarcerated for serious offences of rape, serious economic or bank fraud, or booked under stringent acts MCOCA or MPID. Moreover, we have already locked down eight prisons in the state so no new inmates will be added in these jails and staff will not go in or out.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines