With more prisoners and staff in jails across Maharashtra testing positive for coronavirus disease (Covid-19), the state government has recently directed district collectors to use temporary prisons set up across the state as isolation and Covid care facilities for inmates.
As of Saturday, 19 prisons in state have reported 1,029 Covid-19 cases, which include 769 inmates and 260 jail staff. Of these, 624 inmates and 219 staff have recovered. In the last two weeks, three prisons have reported first cases of Covid-19 and during the same period, total cases in prisons across the state have risen by 180.
Around mid-May, the state Home department had empowered district collectors to take provisional possession of government or privately owned buildings and designate them as temporary prisons, which could be used to isolate sections of prisoners to avert spread of infections. Till now, 37 temporary prisons have been designated across the state, most of which are on campuses of schools, colleges or hostels, which have multiple buildings. These temporary prisoners currently house close to 2,800 inmates.
A senior official from the state Prison department said that in July, the Home department had directed district collectors to use the temporary prisons as isolation facilities for high-risk contacts and as Covid care centres for asymptomatic positive prisoners. Accordingly, every temporary prison has designated buildings on the same campus, or, in some cases, nearby separate campuses as the isolation or Covid care facility. The local district administration is responsible for providing all amenities to these facilities, as per the guidelines of the Health department. Inmates with symptoms of infection are to be transferred to dedicated Covid hospitals run by government or local civic bodies.
The official said that state Prison department head Sunil Ramanand has directed prison superintendents to make adequate and preemptive arrangements to isolate and accommodate prison staffers who have tested positive for the virus and their high-risk contacts.
It can be recalled that the first lot of cases was reported in Mumbai’s Arthur Road Prison around the first week of May. Till now, Yerawada jail in Pune, Akola district prison, Nagpur central prison, Solapur district jail and Osmanabad district jail have reported close to 50 cases among the inmates. Four inmates have so far succumbed to the infection, including two from Taloja Central Prison and one each in Yerawada and Dhule prison.
Following the directions of the Bombay High Court, the Prison department had started random testing of inmates and staff to check the spread of coronavirus. Till now, 4,700 inmates and 1,300 prison staff have been tested for coronavirus across the state.
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 – would be released either on provisional bail or parole. In May, when cases started getting reported among the prisons, the proposed number of inmates to be released was revised to 17,000, which is half the pre-lockdown population of the inmates in the prisons across the state. Till June 1, the number of inmates released was 9,600. However, since the first week of June, the process of release of inmates drastically slowed down. Till now, a total of 10,400 inmates have been released.
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