Dire Need For Prison and Judicial Reforms As 184 Inmates Test Positive For COVID-19 In Arthur Road Jail In Maharashtra

Report By Nandika Chand | Kashmir Srinagar | Last Updated at May 25 2020

Activists have for years emphasized that overcrowding in jails is a serious problem in India.

After the discovery of the first positive case for COVID-19 in Arthur Road Jail, Maharashtra, now 184 inmates have been infected with the disease. Isolation and phyiscal distancing is impossible in the overcrowded sardine-can jail.

Earlier in the month, the Arthur Road Jail superintendent had warned that COVID-19 outbreak cannot be contained due to overcrowding. This has once again brought focus to the need for prison and judicial reforms. Legal experts and activists now see jails as hotbeds of the novel coronavirus. However, there is still reluctance to grant bail to undertrials. In April, the Supreme Court had passed the order to release some prisoners on parole to reduce overcrowding in prisons amid the COVID-19 outbreak. But it has been observed that this hasn’t been followed.

Chief Justice AS Bobde had asked every state to constitute a high-powered committee to determine which class of prisoners can be released on parole or interim bail. The top court had said prisoners convicted or charged with offences having a jail term of up to seven years can be released on parole to prevent the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in prisons.

The Maharastra state government had announced it would be releasing 11,000 incarcerated persons from the state’s 60 prisons. But a month later, the apex court noted that the home department has only released a little over 4,000 prisoners. Activists have for years emphasized that overcrowding in jails is a serious problem in India.

The 2019 India Justice Report revealed prisons in India are overcrowded with a 114 per cent occupancy rate with 17 out of 36 state and union territories having prison occupancy of 100 per cent. It said overcrowding in prisons is due to the fact that nearly 68 per cent of undertrials are waiting for investigation, inquiry or trial. Moreover, India is ranked 15th out of 217 countries in undertrial incarceration.

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