Maharashtra Prison department officials are identifying buildings located near prisons that can be used to keep new inmates, in a bid to prevent crowding of jails and the threat of COVID-19 infection to other inmates.
Meanwhile, during the national lockdown, all inmates sent to prisons are being kept in isolated barracks for the initial few days. Visits of family members and lawyers have already been suspended. The payphone facility has been made available more frequently and isolation wards have been set up for inmates who show any symptom of the viral disease.
Additional Director General, Prisons and Correctional Services (Maharashtra), Sunil Ramanand, told The Indian Express on Wednesday, “To accommodate new inmates and to avoid possibility of infection spreading inside the prison, buildings which are outside but located near the prisons are being identified across the state. New inmates can be housed in these buildings. Orders to identify and allocate these building locally have been issued by respective district collectors in some places. This will happen across the state.”
Three days after the national lockdown was announced, the Maharashtra government had announced that nearly 11,000 inmates — both undertrials and convicts who have been incarcerated for lesser and non-heinous offences – will be released either on provisional bail or parole, to reduce crowding in prisons in the state. After the process started on March 28, nearly 4,200 undertrial prisoners from 37 jails across the state have been released till Tuesday night.
The process of release of convicts on parole is yet to begin, as prison officials are awaiting a statutory order from the state government inserting clauses about such release in the parole and furlough rulebook. When the process of release began, prisons in Maharashtra had a population of 36,700 as against the sanctioned strength of 24,030, an overcrowding of nearly 52 per cent.
Announcing further precautionary measure on April 9, the state Prison department said that it was “locking down” five heavily overcrowded prisons in Mumbai, Pune and Thane districts — Arthur Road and Byculla Jails in Mumbai, Thane and Kalyan in Thane district, and Yerawada Central Prison in Pune — in the backdrop of rapidly-growing coronavirus cases in Mumbai and Pune. Under the lockdown, no new inmates are being admitted in these prisons and medically-examined prison staff have remained inside prisons till further orders.
The prison department has also ordered locking down Aurangabad prison and is in the process of doing so for other major prisons in the state.
The Supreme Court had, on March 23, directed each state and union territory to constitute a high-powered committee to determine which class of prisoners can be released on parole or interim bail. Based on the recommendations of the committee in Maharashtra, the release of prisoners had started in the last week of March.
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