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Maharashtra: As cases among inmates rise, prison dept ramps up testing, plans to restart temporary jails

Since the pandemic began, 44 of the 47 prisons in Maharashtra have reported Covid-19 infections and the total number of cases among the inmates till now is 3,116, of which 2,911 have recovered, seven have succumbed to the infection and 198 are active cases as on Wednesday night.

Written by Sushant Kulkarni | Pune |
April 15, 2021 11:41:25 pm
At the peak of the pandemic, 37 temporary prisons were functioning across the state, most of which were on the campuses of schools, colleges or hostels, and they were admitting new inmates coming to various prisons in the state. (Express Photo)

Active cases of Covid-19 among inmates in prisons across the state are rising following a spike in cases in the general population. The prison administration has not just ramped up testing but also begun the process to restart temporary prisons and vaccinate inmates and jail staff.

Since the pandemic began, 44 of the 47 prisons in Maharashtra have reported Covid-19 infections and the total number of cases among the inmates till now is 3,116, of which 2,911 have recovered, seven have succumbed to the infection and 198 are active cases as on Wednesday night. The active cases are, however, only from 25 prisons. The other state prisons do not have active cases among inmates as on Wednesday. The current population of inmates in the 47 prisons in the state stands as 34,422.

Exactly two months ago, on February 14, there were only 21 active cases among inmates across the state, 2,588 was the total number of infections, 2,560 inmates had recovered and the number of deaths stood at seven.

On February 14, number of active cases among the prison staff was 18, which has now gone up to 86 as on April 14. Eight prison staffers have succumbed to Covid-19.

“The rise in cases among the inmates is a reflection of rise in cases in the general population outside. But prisons have a lot of shared spaces, we have to be extra cautious while handling cases detected among inmates. Safety of prison staff is another key concern.” said a senior Prison department officer. Since last several months, every new inmate — both convicts and undertrials — are being tested for Covid-19 before admission into the prison and are till then kept in isolation facilities within the prisons premises.

The first cases of coronavirus infections were reported from Arthur Road Prison around the first week of May last year. Following detection of cases in other prisons, the state government had locked down key prisons in the state and started setting up temporary prisons. Around mid-May last year, the Maharashtra Home department had empowered district collectors in the state to take provisional possession of government or privately-owned buildings and designate them as temporary prisons, to be used for isolating sections of prisoners to avoid spread of infections during the pandemic.

At the peak of the pandemic, 37 temporary prisons were functioning across the state, most of which were on the campuses of schools, colleges or hostels, and they were admitting new inmates coming to various prisons in the state.

As the cases showed a downward trajectory towards the end of last year, these temporary prisons were handed back to their parent establishments. “Currently there are 10 temporary prisons functioning in the state. But now, with the rise in the number of active cases on rise, the prison administration has initiated the process to restart temporary prisons.” The official said. State Prison Department Chief Sunil Ramanand has written to concerned district authorities for handing over the buildings that were earlier designated as temporary prisons.

Meanwhile, the vaccination drive for inmates is currently on, as per age norms, for the general population. Till now, 1,326 inmates have been administered the first dose of the vaccine. Vaccination of prison staff is also being done on priority basis as 3,112 staffers from the total strength of 3,816, around 81.5 per cent, have till now been vaccinated.

At the beginning of the pandemic last year, the Maharashtra government had announced that both under-trials and convicts who have been 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. As part of the process, 10,700 inmates were released over a period of six months. The process of release on temporary parole has now been put on hold.

 

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