The Maharashtra State Prison Department on Thursday announced that it was ‘locking down’ five heavily overcrowded prisons — Arthur Road and Byculla Jails in Mumbai, Thane and Kalyan in Thane district, and Yerawada Central Prison in Pune — in the backdrop of rapidly-increasing coronavirus cases. Under the lockdown, no new inmates will be lodged in these prisons and medically examined prison staff will remain inside prison till further orders.
On March 26, the Maharashtra government had announced that nearly 11,000 inmates — both undertrials and convicts who have been incarcerated for lesser and non-heinous offences that attract less than seven years of maximum sentence — will be released either on provisional bail or parole. After the process started on March 28, nearly 3,100 prisoners from 60 jails across the state were released till Wednesday night.
The order about the lockdown was issued on Thursday by Additional Director General (Prisons and Correctional Services) for Maharashtra, Sunil Ramanand, stopping the entry of any new inmates into these prisons. “I have issued orders for the lockdown of five prisons. Medically examined prison staff will lock themselves up until further orders and administer the prisons without stepping out. The move has been initiated as these five prisons are located in affected areas of the state and hold very large number of inmates, way beyond capacity. This is s preventive measure in view of the coronavirus spread,” Ramanand said.
According to the prison population figures as on February 29, the 60 prisons in Maharashtra have a inmate population of nearly 36,700 as against the sanctioned capacity of 24,030, an overcrowding of around 52 percent. Of these, the nine high-security central prisons have a total population of 25,866 as against the sanctioned strength of 14,491, an overcrowding of 78 per cent.
The British-era prisons like Yerawada Central Jail in Pune (5,717 against 2,449, 133 per cent overcrowding) and Arthur Road Central (3,718 against 804, 362 per cent), Thane Central Jail (4,035 against 1,105, 265 per cent), Kalyan District Prison (1,971 against 540, 265 per cent) and Byculla (514 against 200, 157 per cent) are worst affected by the overcrowding. These figures are from a month before the release of prisoners started.
Since the process of release started in the last week of March, the number of undertrial prisoners that have been released from Arthur Road, Thane, Yerawada, Kalyan and Byculla jails respectively are 465, 343, 270, 118 and 177, as on Wednesday night.
Officials said that for the last one week, all the inmates brought to the prisons — which the courts are ordering only in exceptional cases — were put in isolated barracks in the initial few days. Visits of family members and lawyer have been suspended. The facility of payphone has been made available with more frequency. Isolation wards have been created for inmates showing any symptom of the viral disease.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines