Freeing prisoners in emergencyApprox Read Time: 5 minutes
In News: Freeing prisoners in emergency
- Following an outbreak of novel coronavirus infections in Mumbai Central Jail, a high-power committee was appointed for the emergency release on parole or bail of prison inmates.
- The committee recently decided to release around 17,000 prisoners from jails across the state. This is nearly half the prisoner strength of 35,239 across jails in Maharashtra.
- Over the last several days, 184 persons (158 inmates and 26 staff) were found infected in Mumbai Central Jail(Arthur Road Jail), besides a 54-year old woman inmate at Byculla Jail.
- The Maharashtra government ordered for the release of all undertrials, relaxing the earlier category of those facing up to seven years imprisonment.
- The undertrials except those including those charged with murder, rape, kidnapping, bank frauds, major financial scams, money-laundering, anti-terror laws, child sexual abuse as well as all foreign nationals were not released.
- The notification also ordered inmates who reside outside the state can be released only after the lockdown period is over and public transportation is available.
- The release is temporary.
- Initially, both bail and parole are valid only for 45 days, or till the application of Epidemic Diseases Act from the state is revoked, whichever is earlier.
- The 45-day period would later be extended in blocks of 30 days each. But eventually, the prisoners are supposed to be back in the barracks.
- The bail order is issued by a relevant court, while parole is sanctioned by authorized jail officer.
Background on release of prisoners:
- In March 2020, the Supreme Court observed that the prisons in India are overcrowded making it difficult for the prisoners to maintain social distancing and directed decongesting of prisons.
- Following the Supreme Court order, most states have constituted a high-powered committee and come up with their respective categories of prisoners eligible for release.
- Committees across the country can recommend release of 14 categories of prisoners, including women and those with severe illnesses.
Release of Prisoners in Maharashtra:
- Before the lockdown, the Maharashtra’s jails were accommodating 50% over their capacity which is much higher than the national average occupancy in central prisons, which on an average house 13 prisoners against a capacity of 10.
- With many Maharashtra jails severely overcrowded, housing prisoners four to five times their capacities, the state government became the first to take a move in that direction.
- On 25th March, a high-powered committee headed by high court Justice Amjad Sayed recommended release of undertrials charged with offences punishable up to seven years. It also directed release of convicts on emergency parole with a few conditions.
- On 28th March, officials of the District Legal Services Authority began facilitating release of undertrials.
- Following the outbreak in the Mumbai Central Jail, on 8th May the state government amended the Maharashtra Prisons (Mumbai Furlough and Parole) Rules, and issued a notification enabling the release of certain categories of convicts.
Covid-19 cases in other state’s prisons and steps taken by them:
- States including Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi have recorded Covid-19 cases in their prisons.
- The Supreme Court had said the categories for release should be determined but not be limited to the nature of offence, duration of sentence, and previous criminal record, most states have adhered to these and granted release only to those facing charges that involve punishment up to seven years in jail.
- Haryana and Odisha have directed the release of all prisoners above age 65 on a temporary basis, with exceptions.
- Goa has directed undertrial review committees, set up in each district as per a previous Supreme Court order, to undertake the responsibility of releasing undertrials.