Prison Ministry India (PMI), a national voluntary organisation, has been assisting prison officials carry out the phased release of prisoners during the pandemic, and has also acted as a bridge between prisoners and their families. “It has been a challenging time with overcrowding in jails posing a threat during the pandemic. We decided to help prison officials as they worked towards releasing the prisoners…,” said Father Wilfred Fernandes, state and central region coordinator of PMI.
According to data from the state Department of Prisons and Correctional Services, till August, a total of 10,467 prisoners have been released across the state on emergency parole and temporary bail as part of efforts to decongest jails and prevent the spread of coronavirus disease. Currently, there are 26,363 inmates across 47 jails of Maharashtra. “We are getting help from NGOs and lawyers,” said a state prison official.
Through its 850 branches and 8,000 volunteers, PMI serves 1,339 prisons across India. It has 20 rehabilitation centres across India for prisoners, women and children. As part of PMI’s initiative — Reform to reintegrate — the NGO has provided legal assistance, bail payments, security deposits, resettlement funds and support to 11 prisoners from both the men and women’s jails at Yerawada.
“We worked with prison officials to help release the prisoners. The inmates gave us contact numbers of their close relatives when we met them at the temporary jails set up near Yerawada jail . Sometimes the relatives were reluctant and refused to acknowledge that anyone was in prison. We had to talk to them and tell them about the steps taken by the Prison department to release the prisoners on emergency parole. These interventions took time but helped in connecting with several prisoners’ families,” said Father Wilfred.
Citing the example of Savant (name changed), who was imprisoned on charges of murder and was released from Yeravada jail recently, volunteers from PMI-Pune said they have been closely involved in his release and reintegration. “… Savant felt overwhelmed by yet another lockdown in his life and did not have any other means of livelihood,” said Anthony Jacob, a volunteer with PMI-Pune. The organisation gave Rs 25,000 to Savant, so that he could start a garment business in his hometown.
On August 16, PMI-Pune will celebrate ‘Prison Ministry Sunday’ to commemorate the feast of Saint St. Maximilian Kolbe, the patron saint of prisoners, who had said, “A single act of love makes the soul return to life”.
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