Over the last two weeks, three new prisons in Maharashtra have reported coronavirus infections among inmates and staff, taking the number of affected prisons to 13 and Covid-19 cases in state prisons to 762, which includes 166 staff members. These numbers include 132 new cases among inmates of Nagpur Central Prison, reported on Thursday.
The first lot of cases was reported in Mumbai Central Prison, better known as Arthur Road Prison, around the first week of May. Subsequently, cases were reported from 10 prisons across the state, with the maximum number of cases reported from Satara, Solapur and Aurangabad prisons.
In the last week of June, Akola District Prison and Ratnagiri Special Prison reported Covid-19 cases and in July, Nagpur Central Prison reported cases. All the cases among the inmates and staff in these three prisons remain active as on Thursday. Till now, Akola District Prison has reported 72 cases among inmates and one among staff, Ratnagiri Prison has reported nine cases among inmates and four among staff.
Nagpur Central Prison, which had reported 87 cases among inmates and 57 among the staff till Wednesday, reported 132 new cases among inmates, taking the total number of Covid-19 cases among inmates to 219 on Thursday.
When contacted, Additional Director General (Prison and Correctional Services) Sunil Ramanand said, “We have undertaken random testing to check for asymptomatic cases, as per orders of the High Court.”
The total number of inmates and prison staff who have tested positive for the infection till now across 13 prisons is 596 and 166 respectively, of whom 281 and 93 have recovered. The 166 prison staff also includes two staffers from the office of Additional Director General of Prison in Pune, of whom one has recovered. The infected prisoners are being kept in Covid care centres and temporary prisons set up in districts across Maharashtra.
After a staff member tests positive in a particular prison, some of the remaining staff, who were in touch with him, have to go into quarantine for a stipulated time, putting a strain on the remaining prison staff, including guards.
Till now, four inmates have succumbed to the infection, two in Taloja Central Prison and one each in Yerawada and Dhule Prison. The Yerawada Central Prison, which has the highest population of inmates in the state has not reported any case till now other than one inmate who was isolated in April following breathing trouble, and tested positive after his death in the second week of May.
Around mid March, Maharashtra’s Prison department had started the process of decongesting state prisons by initially releasing undertrial inmates on conditional bail as an emergency measure. From May 11, the department also started releasing convict inmates on emergency parole. Around 17,000 inmates from the pre-lockdown population of over 36,000 are targeted to be released as a decongstion measure.
Since April 9, the prison administration had ordered a complete lockdown of overcrowded prisons, after which new inmates were lodged in separate temporary prisons and medically examined prison staff remained inside prisons for longer duration.
Video calling facility extended for meetings with lawyers
The Prison department has installed additional pay phones and made available video calling facility for inmates to get in touch with their family members. From Wednesday, 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.
Prison officials also said they are contacting family members of inmates who test positive for Covid-19, to give them complete information about the health status of the inmate.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines