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Assam's prison steps to tackle coronavirus

All jail superintendents directed to move local courts to seek permission to release prison inmates on parole
Guwahati Central Jail

Pranjal Baruah   |   Guwahati   |   Published 25.03.20, 07:23 PM

The jail authorities in Assam were asked to make separate staying arrangements for “fresh” prisoners and also prepare quarantine units on the jail campuses to prevent any possible spread of Covid-19 infection. Already sanitisation of all the jail campuses are on acco-rding to prescribed guidelines.

Assam has 31 jails, including six central jails, 22 district jails, a sub-jail, an open jail and a special jail in which some 8,257 prisoners are lodged. Besides, there are six detention centres for illegal foreigners inside these jails which house around 834 individuals.

Earlier on March 16, the Supreme Court took suo moto cognisance of the risk of Covid-19 infection spreading within and from the “overcrowded” prisons across the country. The court observed that social distancing was difficult inside prisons. According to the latest report of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), the occupancy rate of Indian prisons is as high as 115 per cent.

The deputy inspector-general of prisons (headquarters), Bidyadhar Saikia, told The Telegraph: “The Guwahati Central Jail has prepared some three such separate staying arrangements for the new prisoners. The prisoners who are already lodged inside the prison were shifted together while instructed to maintain the required distance from each other. Since the virus can only come from outside, thermal screening of the prisoners is also done regularly before entering their cells. Besides, there is regular hygiene maintenance.”

These separate wards were prepared out of the existing ones by shifting the existing prisoners to different ones. Also, the workshop of prisoners inside the Guwahati jail where the inmates were usually given vocational training was vacated to prepare as a quarantine unit in times of urgency.

“The state health department has also deployed three medical officials, including a doctor, in the Guwahati Central Jail in addition to the existing medical staffs to meet the situation,’ Saikia added. The health department has also asked for a weekly report of the jail inmates.

Similar arrangements were done in other jails of the state. The home department has also asked the jail authorities to discourage visitors to meet inmates till the virus outbreak stops. The prisoners were also offered counselling sessions on a daily basis to stay “calm” and maintain hygiene in this period.

All jail superintendents of the state were directed to move the local courts seeking permission to release prison inmates on parole to reduce the load of inmates in the jails.

On Monday, the Supreme Court asked the state governments to consider giving parole to those facing up to seven-year jail term in a bid to decongest prisons on account of the Covid-19 outbreak. The apex court said prisoners convicted of or charged with offences having prison terms up to seven years can be given parole to decongest the jails.

Sources said then that if allowed to go on parole of such prison inmates, the state jails would be able to reduce around 10-12 per cent of the load of prisoners.

Guwahati Central Jail houses around 1,200 inmates against its intact capacity of 1,000. 

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