The Punjab government is considering pushing cases of under-trial petty criminals for bail in local courts, and parole for those who have spent considerable time in jail. The proposal comes after the Supreme Court issued directions to decongest prisons in light of the COVID-19 outbreak in the country.
Initial estimates calculated by the jails department indicate that there are around 6,000 inmates who could come out on bail or parole.
“The final decision would, however, depend on the courts. State Advocate General Atul Nanda will take up the matter with the Chief Justice of the Punjab and Haryana High Court,” Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh said Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the state jails department has taken measures that include court hearings of inmates through video conferencing, suspension of jail meetings (mulakat with prisoners), screening of jail staff for symptoms twice a day, placing new inmates under watch at an isolated enclosure for at least three days and ensuring a distance of about 3 ft between inmates.
Punjab Health Minister Balbir Singh Sidhu however said that the move could lead “to an outcry outside”. “If some dreaded criminal comes out, it would be a law and order problem,” he told The Indian Express.
“We plan to put in place a system in jails itself to combat the problem. A meeting of ministers is scheduled on Thursday afternoon, where precautionary measures will be discussed,” he added.
“There is overall overcrowding of two per cent in the state’s jails,” said ADGP Prisons P K Sinha. Amritsar Central Jail, which caters to a number of adjoining areas, was overcrowded by 30 per cent, he added.
“If a single COVID-19 case enters the jail, it will be very difficult for us,” he said. Sources said that around 50 cases which were moved earlier were pending for parole in Amritsar Central Jail alone “due to paperwork”.
State Jails Minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa said that at a meeting held Wednesday evening, the proposal of letting out petty criminals – addicts arrested for possession of 2 gm or less (of heroin) for instance — was discussed.
Randhawa said addicts were more prone to contract the coronavirus because of “weak immunity due to drug use”.
The minister said the “law and order” situation was also being factored in the proposed idea where around 6,000 inmates would be out of jails.
At a meeting of jails officials presided over by ADGP Prisons P K Sinha on Monday, it was pointed out that the coronavirus can enter jails through five modes – through duty staff, mulakat, entry of new inmates, return from parole, and inmates returning from court hearings.
Following the meeting, a set of guidelines was issued. Inmates have also been advised to inform, through the Prison Inmate Calling System (PICS), their relatives not to come for meetings in jail, said an official.
Randhawa said, “Each prisoner is being provided two masks, which are prepared in jail itself. Kitchen hygiene is being maintained, rooms and washrooms have been thoroughly cleaned and bedding is being kept at a distance of about 3 feet from another, apart from ensuring distancing.”
He further said that he had urged the CM that the health department make precautionary arrangements in jails as well.
Must not be complacent: Capt
On Wednesday, Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh said:
– The Punjab government is taking all possible measures to stop the disease from spreading further
– Strict monitoring is being conducted of all those arriving from high-risk countries and so far, 116 suspected cases have been tested
– The state government is geared up to launch a door-to-door awareness campaign from Thursday
– Religious organisations and Dera heads must limit gatherings to under 50 people
– While Punjab has just one confirmed case, it cannot not afford to be complacent in the face of the pandemic
– Government is ready to look into providing mid-day meals to students at homes or, alternatively, put money into their accounts, though no such request had been received so far
– The state has adequate life support system and medicines. A total of 1700 isolation beds are available, with the entire hostel of Gyan Sagar Medical College, Rajpura, dedicted for the purpose
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