The Assam government will release 376 prisoners in the next few days to decongest jails across the state after 535 inmates tested positive for COVID-19, an official said on Thursday. Of the 376 prisoners to be released, 111 are presently lodged in Guwahati Central Jail, he said.
The rest of the prisoners are now lodged in the district jails of Nalbari, Dhubri, Karimganj, North Lakhimpur, Golaghat, Diphu and Udalguri, he added. Assam Inspector General of Prisons Dasarath Das told PTI that 535 prisoners in 10 jails across the state have been affected by the pandemic. The highest number of 435 are from Guwahati.
Das said the authorities were releasing prisoners at regular intervals according to the direction of the Supreme Court to decongest the jails and another set of inmates will be released soon. “The High Powered Committee formed after the SC set the guidelines met yesterday. We have sent a proposal to release 376 prisoners from eight overcrowded jails. This includes 111 inmates from Guwahati Central Jail,” he said.
“So far, we have released a total of 6,801 prisoners since March to decongest the jails. This includes 6,671 undertrials, who were released on bail and personal bonds. Out of these, 2,000 undertrials were released at one go in the initial period,” Das said. Another 115, who are convicts, were allowed to go home on annual leave, while 15 more were released on parole, he added.
Every eligible convict gets 30 days of annual leave for emergency purposes according to the rule. “Since March we have been taking various measures proactively to make our jails coronavirus free and we succeeded to a large extent. But after the first case on June 4, the inmates got infected, mostly in Guwahati,” the IG, Prisons said.
Das said a 200-bedded Covid Care Centre (CCC) has been set up inside Guwahati Central Jail to treat asymptomatic prisoners and the authorities are creating a second such facility at Nagaon Special Jail. Das said that the 31 jails and six detention centres currently house around 8,800 inmates against the sanctioned capacity of 8,938 after more than 300 inmates were released from the detention centres as well.
“We are at a comfortable level now and implementing social distancing inside the jails. Though we have released a huge number of prisoners, new inmates are coming in on a regular basis. That is why the total number is not going down drastically,” he explained. Asked about creating CCC inside two jails, Das said that the decision was taken after three prisoners of the Guwahati Central Jail escaped from Sonapur civil hospital. One of them has been re-arrested already.
He said 54 prisoners have tested positive at the Nagaon special jail. The CCC there, a joint initiative of the district administration, health officials and jail authorities with be ready within a few days, the IG said. Arrested peasant leader Akhil Gogoi is being treated at Gauhati Medical College and Hospital, JNU student Sharjeel Imam is recovering at the CCC inside Guwahati Central Jail. Both were arrested for protests against Citizenship (Amendment) Act.
“We have completed testing of all prisoners in Guwahati jail and found that 435 had tested positive. Out of them 197 have recovered and returned from the hospitals. On a state-wide level, we have detected 535 positive cases from 10 jails so far,” Das said. The worst affected Guwahati Central Jail currently has 984 inmates against its capacity to house 1,000 prisoners, he added.
Das informed that a committee is being formed in every district to monitor the coronavirus condition and the security mechanism in the jails. These committees will comprise people from district administration, jail authorities and health officials. About steps taken to contain the spread of the contagion, Das said the jail authorities are allowing in new inmates only if he or she tests negative.
“If the accused or the convict tests positive, we send the person to the hospital directly. We have also stopped visitors from meeting the prisoners and provided telephone facilities to allow them to talk to their families and advocates,” he added. Food distribution inside the jails are being done in a staggered manner so that there is no crowding in the dining hall and authorities are carrying out a sanitisation drive daily to disinfect the premises, Das said.
Besides, every jail has been instructed to purchase two spraying machines for sanitisation. Guwahati Central Jail has five such machines, he added. The state has six central jails, 22 district jails, one open air jail, one special jail and one sub-jail, besides six detention centres.
On March 23, the Supreme Court had directed all states and union territories to constitute high-level committees to consider releasing on parole or interim bail prisoners and undertrials for offences entailing up to seven-year jail term to decongest prisons in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic. In another order on April 13 the apex court had diluted the terms for the conditional release of the inmates lodged in six detention camps in Assam to two years from three years earlier and the surety amount to Rs 5,000 from Rs 1 lakh.