Create Isolation Wards, Conduct Rapid Tests to Curb Covid-19 Spread in Jails: Committee Headed by Delhi HC Judge

With several inmates and staff at prisons in the city testing positive for COVID-19, a high-powered committee headed by a Delhi High Court judge has issued several directions, like creating isolation wards and carrying out rapid tests, to prevent further spread of the virus among prisoners.

The high powered committee (HPC), headed by Justice Hima Kohli, also directed prison authorities to take extra precautions with regard to inmates over 55 years of age after a 62-year-old prisoner, who died in his sleep, was later found to be COVID positive.

The committee further said that new prisoners between ages 18 and 21 be kept in isolation wards and also asked the DG Prisons and Special Secretary (Home) of the Delhi government to make efforts to get the 360 vacant police quarters adjacent to Mandoli jail here for use as a temporary jail to create isolation ward for new prisoners and COVID positive cases.

To prevent new prisoners from spreading the virus among the inmates, the HPC was of the opinion that rapid tests needed to be conducted on every new entrant and it directed accordingly.

The committee, in its meeting held on June 20, further resolved that all jail hospitals must be equipped with 'oxygen concentration machines' and two such machines for each of the two jail hospitals must be procured at the earliest.

To prevent spread of COVID-19 among inmates through jail staff, the committee resolved that rapid testing of the staff be carried out as per guidelines of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).

"This is to ensure that the suspected cases of corona positive jail staff could be prevented from getting in touch with jail inmates," according to the minutes of the meeting.

With regard to decongesting jails by granting interim bails and parole, the committee was informed that total 4,129 undertrials and convicted prisoners have been released till June 20.

After taking note of the figures, the committee said since there was no certainty when the threat of pandemic shall be over and requirement of social distancing no longer necessary, the interim bail of under-trial prisoners (UTPs) needs to be extended for a further period of 45 days from their respective date of expiry of the relief.

The committee said a judicial order from Delhi HC was required in this regard and recommended accordingly.

It directed the Delhi State Legal Services Authority to place the recommendation before the Delhi HC for necessary action.

With regard to extension of eight weeks emergency parole granted to prisoners, the Delhi government informed the committee that a decision has been taken on May 22 to further extend it by another eight weeks.

The committee expressed satisfaction with the step taken and further resolved to modify its criteria for release of UTPs by including the category of accused spouse and in-laws in dowry death cases as eligible for grant of interim bail.

The criteria was modified after noting that despite taking effective steps to decongest jails here, Delhi still has a prison population of 13,677 as on June 19 as against the combined holding capacity of 10,026 of the 16 jails in the national capital.