Amid rising cases among inmates during the ongoing second wave of Covid-19, the state prison department has once again started the process of releasing inmates on interim bail or emergency parole to decongest jails, as per the guidelines of a high-power committee (HPC) set up by the state government. As on Tuesday, 59 convicts were released on temporary parole and 443 undertrials released on interim bail.
Since the pandemic began last year, 44 out of 47 prison establishments in Maharashtra have reported Covid-19 infections. The total number of cases among inmates as on Tuesday was 4,012, of which 3,776 inmates have recovered, 13 have died and 223 are active. Active cases are from 26 of the prisons. Other prisons do not have active cases as of now.
If this data is to be compared to data points in the second week of February — there were just 21 active cases among inmates across the state when 2,588 was the total number of infections, 2,560 had recovered by then and the number of deaths stood at seven.
In the second week of February, active cases among prison staff were 18, which stood at 53 as on Tuesday night. Nine staffers from the prison department have died of Covid to date.
Following a Supreme Court order in March last year, about the spread of Covid-19 in prisons, an HPC was formed by the state to determine the criteria for the release of inmates on interim bail and emergency parole.
In accordance with the decisions of the HPC, eligible prisoners were temporarily released from time to time during the first wave and the prison population, which stood at 36,060 on March 31, 2020 as against a capacity of 23,260, was reduced to 26,380 by July 31, 2020.
In a related matter, the Bombay High Court asked the HPC to issue guidelines on interim bail or parole to decongest prisons. The HPC — comprising Justice A A Sayed, a High Court judge; Anand Limaye, additional chief secretary (appeals and security), home department; and Sunil Ramanand, additional director general of police and head of state prisons department — held meetings on May 7 and 11. Based on its guidelines, inmates have been being released on interim bail and emergency parole from the second week of this month.
Officials said criteria, as issued under HPC guidelines last year, will continue to be applicable this year too. They added that after July last year, when the prison population of the state stood at 26,380, the number of prisoners had steadily increased and, as on April 30, the prison population stood at 34,224, while it was 34,733 on May 11.
During the pandemic, the prison department has undertaken a slew of measures. These include vaccinations of prison staff and, subsequently, high-risk inmates, setting up 41 temporary prisons with the total capacity of 2,450, of which 10 double up as Covid care centres with the capacity of 900 for asymptomatic and mildly symptomatic inmates. As on Tuesday night, 1,090 inmates were housed at temporary prisons and 40 at care centres.