As cases among inmates and staff in prisons across Maharashtra continue to rise, the state prison department has said that while random testing of inmates is being sought, it has not been happening at some places due to the overall burden on the health machinery.
There are now 16 prisons in Maharashtra which have reported Covid-19 infections with 851 cases, which includes 643 inmates and 208 staff members. Of these, 444 and 164, respectively, have till now recovered. It can be recalled that the first lot of cases was reported in Mumbai Central Prison, better known as Arthur Road Prison, around the first week of May. Till now, Akola, Nagpur and Solapur prisons have reported more than 50 cases among the inmates. Four inmates have so far succumbed to the infection, two from Taloja Central Prison and one each in Yerawada and Dhule prison.
Till now swab tests have been conducted for 3,544 inmates and 974 staff members across the state so far. After the release of 10,305 inmates either on emergency bail or parole, the number of inmates in prisons of Maharashtra stands at 26,413 as against the capacity of 23,217, according to the latest available figures as of Saturday night. Main premises of most prisons in the state are currently under lockdown and the new inmates are being admitted to the over 35 temporary prisons which have been set up in 27 districts.
Additional Director General of Police (Prison and Correctional Services) of Maharashtra, Sunil Ramanand said, “We had been carrying out screening for symptoms for quite some time. We have now started conducting random swab testing among the inmates of prisons where cases have been detected. Once a case is detected, the immediate high risk contacts are being tested everywhere as per the norm. Subsequently, the superintendents of prisons are requisitioning the concerned local authorities to conduct random tests among the other inmates too. While in some places, these tests have been conducted, at some places the local authorities are so burdened, they have said that tests will be conducted only when suspected cases with symptoms are found.”
Giving examples, Ramamand said, “For example, Yerawada prison superintendent has written to concerned authorities in Pune several times but they have a huge burden of cases outside. Same is the case in some other prisons including Taloja. But at some places, the local authorities have responded positively, proactively in some cases and have conducted tests of the inmates. We will have to keep pursuing with the local authorities as conducting tests is in their hands.”
The prison department has installed additional pay phones and made available video calling facilities for inmates to get in touch with their family members. Recently the department extended the video calling facility for online meetings between inmates and their lawyers. The lawyers are required to contact individual prisons on a designated email address for appointment. A time slot will be allocated to lawyers to hold video call meetings with inmates. The step has been taken following directions of the Bombay High Court, in response to a Public Interest Litigation. Across prisons in the state, as many as 60 smartphones have been procured to be used by inmates to make video calls under supervision.
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