The Covid-19 pandemic in India is part of the worldwide pandemic of corona virus disease caused by Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome “corona virus”. This corona virus can cause cold with major symptoms such as fever and sore throat and respiratory problems. Today corona virus is affecting all the people in India and prisoners are not an exception to it. So far, no medicine or vaccine is available for corona virus which is a very big concern for the world. According to 2018 Nation Crime Records Bureau, prison population in India (including pre trial detainees) remand prisoners are 466,084 among them pre trials are 69.4%, female prisoners are 4.1%, and foreign prisoners include 1.1. %. They all are suffering from this pandemic.
Reasons for Covid-19 being spread among prisoners in prison:
There are various reasons because of which covid -19 could spread among prisoners. Let us have a look on some of the reasons:
- The staff working in prison includes guards, sweepers, clerks, prison authorities, gardeners etc travelling from town or nearby place to prison for their duty. They may carry infection of Covid-19 and transmit it to others, as these people have access to jails which may become a cause of spread of corona virus,
- To avoid the spread of Covid-19, the primary thing to be done, is to practice social distancing which means staying at least at a 6 feet distance from other person, staying out of crowded places. But this is impractical for prisoners in prison as they live, work ,eat ,sleep and even bathe in communal settings. Jails and prisons are often overcrowded and have inmates and staff coming and going. The daily routine creates an environment, ripe for the spread of infectious disease.
- The prisoners can come in contact with their relatives, friends and advocate, social workers which may increase and spread the corona virus in jail.
- Many prisoners often experience poor health and limited access to health care. They either have chronic medical or bad health condition. This means they have high risk for developing severe complications for Covid -19.
- Behind the bars, there is a shortage of health care, professionals and a long history of denial of access to adequate medical care for diseases. Most jails and prisons do not have medical isolation units for those who are infected.
Responsibility of prisoner’s health in this pandemic:
Primarily the responsibility of the prisoner’s health lies on the prison authority, the government and on the prisoners themselves. As prisoners are a part of society, therefore it is responsibility of the government that they are not neglected in these crucial times and they should not be among persons whose responsibility nobody is ready to shoulder.
As corona virus is a communicable disease, once it is spread to a single prisoner, it could spread to all prisoners. The medical expenses, treatment and all other facilities are undertaken by government and it is not feasible for the government to bear such expenses on prisoners in these times where our economy is collapsing. Though this responsibility is difficult to be taken, jail authorities have tried their level best to stop the spread of the virus in the prison by taking some safety measures by stopping prisoners from meeting any outsider. Also a quarantine ward and an isolation ward have been prepared inside jails. These things are done though the prisons are already crowded.
Though government and jail authorities have taken all care and safety measures it becomes difficult for them to protect each and every prisoner and also to spend so much money on health of prisoners.
Prisoners set free on parole in this pandemic:
Under the present circumstances the Supreme Court on March 23 had directed all States and Union Territories to constitute high level committees to consider releasing, on parole or bail, interim bail prisoners and under trials for offences entailing up to 7 years jail term, in the corona pandemic period. The State government has said that around 11,000 prisoners in Maharashtra, whose sentence period is less than seven years, would be released temporarily.
1) To whom this provision is applicable–
Supreme Court suggested that under trials awaiting trial for offences entailing maximum sentence of seven years shall be given the benefit. This means even prisoners who have committed a crime for which the maximum sentence is seven years or who are already serving seven years of imprisonment can be released. No prisoners either charged or convicted under provisions of special laws will be released on temporary bail.
2) To whom this provision does not apply–
Prisoners undergoing trial in drug cases where intermediary or large amount of banned substance was recovered, those facing trial for sexual assault of children, rape and acid attacks, foreign nationals, accused in corruption or money laundering cases and those under investigation in terror, anti-national or unlawful activities would not be considered for bail.
3) Formalities to be done before releasing prisoners on parole–
Convicts who have been punished for seven years or less, should be released on eight week parole on personal bond and free them from jail. They have to give the prison authorities a guarantee after which they are set free. For temporary bail, eligible prisoners will have to approach the concerned court and obtain an order. Parole leave can be secured at the prisons. The due process of law will have to be followed.
Effect of sending prisoners on parole–
This provisions of sending prisoners on parole has both positive effect and negative effect-
1) Let us first look at positive effect of this provision-
- Due to this parole, many prisoners could be rehabilitated, they could understand the importance of family and would also have affection towards them and could be refrained from doing such crime as for which they could be put behind the bars.
- Because of setting prisoners free on parole, safety of other prisoners can be secured as, if there is a break in the chain of corona virus spread then, the transmission of this virus could be stopped.
- The expenses which government would have to make over the prisoners for their health could be reduced and it could help nation’s economy.
- As per NCRB 2018, Indian prisons have an overall capacity level of 117 per cent with more than 4,66,000 prisoners. With such huge numbers, overcrowding is a natural phenomenon faced in most of the prisons in the country especially when we have more than 61,000 prisoners above 50 years. The recent increase in the number of positive cases of prisoners was through the transmission of the virus from one source of inmates to another. The recent Supreme Court guidelines have promoted the temporary release of prisoners to reduce overcrowding which would provide adequate space to implement social distancing than the current scenario offers.
2) Let us now move towards some negative effects-
Though there is more positive side for this provision there is a negative aspect too:
- As it is said by Cesare Lombroso “man is born criminal, though he is set free for his safety his criminal mind would always be working”. After being released on parole he could plan more crimes and also could take revenge on some people and this could potentially happen.
- Crimes may increase in this case and the crime rate may also hike.
- Considering this pandemic situation, the temporary release of prisoners would also instill fear of being ostracized and constrained economic means for their survival. There have been numerous cases of prisoners not being accepted by society after being released. One such case was highlighted in a report by BBC News, where they covered a story of how a man who had been released from prison in Mumbai was barred to enter his village as he came from a hotspot and the villagers were worried about his safety. These prisoners unfortunately now have been subjected to double stigma – being a prisoner and being a potential carrier of the virus.
- A person once sent behind bars always carries a stigma with himself. Because of this, society or this relatives may not accept them immediately.
Moving towards the end, this pandemic has taught us many things. It is very important that in these times we should stand strong as this virus is widely spreading. As per my opinion, the decision take by the court is truly helpful for the prisoners and the government both. The prisoners which will be set free on parole may be psychologically satisfied by staying with their families. They could also take proper precautions and medical treatment in this pandemic. As at the end of the day, they are also human beings, they also have right to life, right of proper medical treatment and care. And lastly it would give them a chance of rehabilitation and mould themselves into a good human being.