In order to protect prisoners’ right to life, the Supreme Court has directed states to examine releasing inmates, convicted or facing trial in non-serious charges, from jails either on regular bail or on parole to prevent overcrowding and spread of Covid-19 infection in prisons during the current surge in virulent cases.
The SC not only ordered release of prisoners on parole or bail, but also took into consideration the difficulty they would face in reaching their homes during lockdown. It asked state governments to provide prisoners, released on the basis of SC orders, with transport facility till their homes. A bench of Chief Justice N V Ramana and Justices L N Rao and Surya Kant said, “Appropriate steps shall be taken for transportation of the released inmates of the prisons, if necessary, in view of the curfews and lockdowns (enforced by) in some states.”
It asked the authorities to be considerate to the concerns of inmates and directed them “to ensure that proper medical facilities are provided to all prisoners who are imprisoned. The spread of Covid virus should be controlled in the prisons by regular testing of the prisoners and jail staff. Immediate treatment should be made available to the inmates and the staff. It is necessary to maintain required levels of daily hygiene and sanitation. Suitable precautions shall be taken to prevent the transmission of the deadly virus amongst the inmates of prisons”.
There are 1,350 prisons in the country consisting of 617 sub-jails, 410 district jails, 144 central jails, 86 open jails, 41 special jails, 31 women jails, 19 Borstal schools and 2 others. The prisons have a capacity to house 4,03,739 inmates, but there are 4,78,600 of them at the end of December 2019. Among them, 4,58,687 were men and 19,913 women inmates.