What Will Happen If Coronavirus Hits Indian Prisons?

Akshita Jain
A policeman walks inside the Tihar Jail in New Delhi March 11, 2013.

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As the cases of coronavirus rise in India, there are growing concerns that prisons can become an epicentre of the pandemic because of overcrowding and substandard sanitation conditions. The World Health Organisation has warned that prisons across the world can expect “huge mortality rates” from COVID-19 unless they take immediate action. 

Lawyers and activists have filed petitions in the Delhi High Court, seeking urgent measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in prisons. Aplea by advocate Shobha Gupta sought the release of all inmates above the age of 50 years and/or those who are not medically fit, undergoing imprisonment for petty and minor offences.

AnotherPIL by lawyer Vikas Padora said most of the prisons in India are “overcrowded and functioning beyond capacity” making them “fertile” ground for the highly infectious disease. 

In 2018, the capacity of India’s prisons was 3,96,223 inmates, while the actual occupancy was 4,66,084 — prisons had 17.6% more inmates than they have capacity for — according to thePrison Statistics of India (PSI) 2018 released by the National Crime Records Bureau. 

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Earlier this week, taking suo motu cognisance of the risk of coronavirus spreading in prisons across the country, the Supreme Court directed all state governments and Union territories to set up high-level committees to determine who could be released on parole for four to six weeks. 

Tihar Jail authorities said on 23 March that they will release about 3,000 prisoners in the next few days. About 20 inmates from Uttar Pradesh’s...

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