The Maharashtra government has come up a series of measures to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, especially in jails, as nearly 200 inmates have tested positive across the 60 prisons in the state. One such measure it has come up with is that of temporary jails to house newly arrested accused.
The aim of introducing the concept of temporary jails is to decongest the already crowded prisons in the state. However, the measures seems to have fallen flat, as even these temporary prisons have become crowded.
According to an affidavit filed by Sunil Ramanand, inspector general of prisons (IGP), the government has commissioned such temporary prisons in 23 districts. The affidavit was filed before a bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Sambhaji Shinde last week. The bench is dealing with a petition filed by the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) through senior counsel Mihir Desai, highlighting the sorry state of prisoners in the state.
"In order to curb the contagion of Covid-19 and to decongest the prisons, the Maharashtra government by resolution issued on May 15, empowered the district cllectors, for declaring any private or public building, premises as a temporary jail," the affidavit reads.
"All newly admitted prisoners are now confined in the said temporary jails. It may be submitted that 23 such temporary jails have been opened in the state so far,' IGP Ramanand has claimed in the affidavit.
Notably, nearly 1,000 prisoners (both male and female) have been kept in these temporary jails notified in 23 districts. Of these 23 new prisons, the capacities of at least seven have already been exceeded, defeating the very purpose of their coming into existence.
"Even if the government constructs proper jails, the issue of crowding will persist. This cannot be stopped by any of us," said Vijay Raghavan, expert in the field of criminology and correctional administration.
"The only way out as of now, is to release the prisoners on bail. The courts will have to be liberal and lenient at least during the present times to release prisoners, which, I think, is the only way out to avoid spread of coronavirus inside prisons," Raghavan added.
According to the affidavit, temporary jails have not been established in districts such as Mumbai and its suburbs, Palghar, Ratnagiri, Latur, Hingoli, Ahmednagar.
Among the districts with crowded temporary jails are Nagpur, Parbhani, Beed, Nanded, Amravati and Buldana while temporary prisons in districts such as Solapur, Akola and Dhule have reached their capacity.
Data on temporary jails
Pune - 111 (97 males, 14 females)
Satara - 61 (60 males, 01 female)
Sangli - 41 (40 males, 01 female)
Osmanabad - 14 males
Raigad - 158 males
Bank accounts for prisoners
The Bombay High Court on Tuesday ordered the jail authorities across Maharashtra to open a bank account for prisoners across the 60 jails. These bank accounts could be used by the relatives of the inmates to deposit money for use by prisoners to purchase essentials during their incarceration. A bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Kamalkishor Tated also ordered the jail authorities to enable prisoners to connect with their family through phone calls, at least till the time the video-conferencing is commissioned by the government.