In a big development, the Supreme Court has asked the States to consider the release of under-trial prisoners lodged in Indian prisons on bail or parole in light of the COVID 2019 outbreak.
In an order passed by the Supreme Court on March 23, the States were asked to form a high power panel comprising of the Law Secretary and including the State Legal Services Authority to determine which class of under-trial prisoners can be temporarily released either on interim bail or on parole for the time being. The Court has asked the States to respond on whether convicts facing a maximum sentence of seven years can be considered for release.
Reducing the crowd in jail is imperative seeing the recent rise in the number of coronavirus cases across India, the Supreme Court observed. Earlier too, the Supreme Court had spoken about how the concept of social distancing was difficult to implement in prisons due to the heavy crowd burden on them. “The National Crime Records Bureau has said that the occupancy rate of Indian prisons is at 117.6%” the Supreme Court had observed.
The order was passed in a hearing on the Suo-moto cognisance taken by the Supreme Court of the risk of the coronavirus spreading within the prisons across the country. In the previous hearing, the Supreme Court had asked the States to take preventive steps and ensure testing of the prisoners is undertaken inside the prison premises.
The Supreme Court had also asked the Director General of Prisons to ensure isolation cells were set up within the prisons for those prisoners who showed symptoms of the virus. The Supreme Court was informed that out of the 17,500 prisoners in Tihar Jail who were tested for the virus, none were declared positive. None of the inmates even showed any symptoms of the virus. Despite this, isolation wards had been set up in Tihar as a preventive measure for the future.