Poor State of Delhi Prisons Demand Urgent Attention


Synopsis:

The condition of Delhi prisons has become immensely poor amidst the second wave of Covid 19. They have exceeded their sanctioned capacity and are on the verge of becoming hotspots for mass infections. Considering this, the government should take effective measures for decongesting prisons. 

Background:
  • Delhi is currently observing over 25000 new Covid 19 cases and 300 deaths every day.
  • The virus has spread enormously across the state and the situation in Delhi prisons is even worse.

Poor state of Delhi Prisons:

  • In April 2021, around 115 positive cases were reported among jail staff and 284 among inmates.
  • Further, they have the highest occupancy rate in the country thereby possessing a high probability of virus spread and greater deaths.
    • As of April 2021, the prison population has crossed 20,500. This is twice the sanctioned capacity. 
Steps taken for Decongest prisons:
  • The Supreme Court directed the states to set up High-Powered Committees (HPC) in March 2020. The objective of HPC was to determine which inmates could be temporarily released.
  • Around 3,499 under-trial prisoners in Delhi had been granted interim bail, and 1,184 convicts had been released on emergency parole till February 2021.
  • However, the HPCs refused to extend the relaxation after this as the number of cases had come down. This again created a burden on Delhi prisons.

The government now again wants to decongest the prisons however some issues would make the process more difficult.

Challenges in decongesting prisons:
  • Unwillingness of Prisoners: Some prisoners feel more safe and secure in prisons. They are unwilling to leave the premises at a time of critical shortages in hospital infrastructure and greater difficulties in finding work.
  • Reluctance of Criminal Justice system: The system failed to adjust as per the circumstances of pandemic-
    • There were a high number of arrests by police during lockdown months.
    • Similarly, reduced functioning of courts delayed trials and enhanced pressure on prisons. 
    • Further, bails were granted based on regular bail jurisprudence. This focuses on individual prisoners and not overall prison conditions. 
  • Inadequate Data: There is a dearth of data on the current prevalence of infection in jails. Effective decongesting is possible only when the government knows the degree of infection spread in jails.
  • Lack of Priority: The authorities have shown very less concern towards the health and safety of prisoners- 
    • For instance, HPC did not reconvene till May 4, and the minutes from this meeting are not yet public.
    • The last assessment of oxygen concentrators and other medical equipment within jails happened in January 2021.
    • The higher courts have not acted on petitions demanding the safety of prisoners in jails.
Way Forward:
  • The government must take robust steps for decongestion. This includes setting up temporary prisons, relaxing criteria for releasing prisoners, etc.
  • The government should restrict the interaction of inmates with jail staff. As it is believed that asymptomatic jail officials may have contributed to the spread of the virus.
  • Further, the government must release data on the prevalence of testing, infection, and vaccination in jails periodically. This will improve public monitoring.

To conclude, we can say that the above steps will help in safeguarding the fundamental right to life of prisoners.

 

Source: Indian Express 

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