Release of prisoners to prevent spread of COVID-19 in prisons

Various prisons across India are set to release nearly 34,000 prisoners after the Supreme Court’s suggestion in March. This measure is being taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Challenges

This step is being taken in many countries across the world. Recently, Indonesia released 30,000 prisoners. In March, a WHO guidelines document listed the following challenges in controlling disease spread in prisons:

  • Rapid increase in disease transmission resulting in amplification of the epidemic.
  • Community transmission might occur in absence of strong IPC measures (infection prevention and control), testing, treatment and care.
  • In many countries, healthcare in prison is under the control of internal affairs or justice ministry. There is a need for coordination with health ministry.
  • The inmates may react differently to further restrictive measures being imposed on people already deprived of liberty.
  • Greater underlying burden of disease and poor health among the prison population adds to the challenge.

In addition to this, India’s prisons are overcrowded- they house 17% more prisoners than their full capacity.

Prisoners’ Release

The selection process for release and the terms of release are being decided upon by individual state government. The SC had suggested the consideration of prisoners charged with offences with imprisonment terms of up to 7 years for the release. Some of the inmates will be released on paroles.

Post-release

After releasing the prisoners, they will be tracked by the police personnel to prevent their escape. A state monitoring committee is being set up by the UP government. The Tihar Jail authorities in Delhi are to rope in the local police for the tracking. West Bengal is making use of conditional parole with the released prisoners’ information like residence and friends’ contacts being provided to local police stations.

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