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Crowded prisons cause of concern

Cuttack, March 18: Majority of prisons across Orissa is reeling from space crunch, compelling their inmates to stay in inhuman and degrading condition.

Jail administrations in certain regions are being forced to reopen wings that have been deemed unfit for habitation to ease the crisis.

Orissa has 70 jails of different categories with a total capacity of 10,000 (approximately). But they are accommodating an additional 5,000 inmates at any given point of time.

The prison population recorded an all-time high of over 15,638 in 2007, a rise of nearly a 1,000 from the 14,644 in the previous year.

“Prison overcrowding is at a crisis point, putting intolerable pressure on prison staff, creating treatment and hygiene problems. In such a state, attempts to prepare prisoners for their release into the society and towards reform is being undermined,” said a senior jail officer.

Take the case of Puri Jail. It presently accommodates 613 and odd inmates when its optimum capacity is 385.

So is the case with the Malkangiri jail, where nearly 200 prisoners are lodged against a capacity of less than a 100.

Similarly, at Sambalpur jail over 582 inmates are languishing against a capacity of 351.

The government, however, feels that new prisons are a solution to overcrowding.

“Construction of 15 new jails and 34 additional wards has been completed. These are likely to be occupied within the next three months,” said chief minister Naveen Patnaik, when the issue cropped up in the Assembly.

“Besides, six more jails and 31 wards are under construction,” Patnaik assured.

Some jail officials on the other hand feel that shortage of staff is at present of more concern than the overcrowding.

At present, there are 1,383 wardens, 124 head wardens and 300 officers with the state prison directorate and correctional services.

The government plans to come up with 21 more prisons to ease the pressure on the existing ones. “But in absence of staff, the jails cannot be made operational,” conceded a senior jail official.

A proposal to recruit 567 new staff is still pending clearance, though.

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