The Covid-19 second wave has seen unprecidented levels of spread and mismanagement on the part of the government. People to people transmission is extremely high. What has been largely overlooked in terms of policy and Covid related relief has been the plight of prison populations.
At a time like this, Indian prisons are super spreaders with unhygienic and congested living conditions. Since last year, there have been appeals from activists to de-congest prisons and give interim bail to undertrial and political prisoners on account of the pandemic. The same has been half heatedly pursued, with many prisons well above prescribed occupancy to this day.
The Andhra Pradesh high court on May 12th passed an order to de-congest the prisons in AP. Following this, the Andhra Pradesh Government has directed that all convicts and undertrial prisoners be released from prisons, on interim bail of 90 days.
This applies mainly to prisoners who have been re-admitted to prisons after previous bail release the year before. Additionally, the HC bench directed the release of convicts and undertrial prisoners who have been arrested for offences punishable with 7 years of imprisonment or less. This however, does not apply to those convicted or undergoing trial under the POCSO Act and Section 376.1 of the IPC. Other qualifications are also required for prisoners to be released under the above directive.
Related Read: Women’s Journey from One Jail to Another: In Conversation with Seema Azad
The High court bench consisting of Justices C Praveen Kumar and Justice Lalitha Kanneganti, also directed that proper Covid-19 protocols be followed in prisons and juvenile remand homes, and directed the Director General of Police (DGP) to record and upload (on the jail dept. website), the prison capacity and current occupancy in all jails in the state.
In the guidelines for the release of prisoners, the court highlighted that measures must be taken to ensure that all those released should be in home quarantine for 14 days, under the surveillance of the doctor or the police. The Court also instructed the state to make provisions for travel and proper medical facilities to those released.
The above directive is to be in operation for 8 weeks from the 30th of May onwards, and will be subject to hearing after 6 weeks.
The Supreme Court on May 8th, ordered states’ Jail authorities to oversee the decongestion of jails. With little to no facilities in place to adequately deal with Covid-19 outbreaks, poor physical distancing protocols and prisons holding prisoners well above the advised capacity, prisons have become super-spreaders.
De-congestion of prisons has been an ongoing process in a number of states, since last year. However, the terms of de-congestion still do not permit release of under trial prisoners booked under UAPA, many of whom have been arrested with little to no evidence by the NIA, and are currently awaiting trial. Reports of political prisoners booked under UAPA, testing positive for the virus have come out; they detail the scarcity and delayed manner in which medical services were available to the prisoners. The current guidelines for de-congestion of prisons require immediate restructuring to accommodate their release.
[…] Read: Andhra Pradesh Govt: Release Re-Convicted Under-trial Prisoners on 90 Day Interim Bail […]