COVID-19 spreads in Maharashtra’s prisons

Published : Oct 08, 2020 16:10 IST

Prisoners being released on bail amid concerns over the spread of the COVID-19 virus at Yerawada Central Prison, Pune, on March 27.

Prisoners being released on bail amid concerns over the spread of the COVID-19 virus at Yerawada Central Prison, Pune, on March 27.

As soon as prison authorities in Maharashtra realised that overcrowded jails would be a magnet for the COVID-19 virus, they took the unprecedented decision in March of releasing prisoners on temporary bail or parole. There are 47 prisons in Maharashtra that used to house 38,031 prisoners. Of these, 10,594 prisoners were temporarily released in May. Despite this, 19 prisons continue to have 3,000 prisoners beyond their holding capacity.

An official report says that by the end of September, 14,261 prisoners across the State who showed COVID symptoms were tested. Of these more than 2,012 tested positive for the coronavirus and 1,616 prisoners recovered. Of the 2,509 prison staff who showed symptoms, 416 tested positive but 360 recovered. There have been 10 deaths—six of them inmates and four prison staff.

The worst affected is the Yerawada Central Prison in Pune, which had 259 positive cases. The second highest number of positive cases was reported by Nagpur Central Prison, where 616 prisoners were tested after showing symptoms. Of these, 219 of them tested positive, but all have recovered. The third highest number was reported from the Mumbai Central Prison, better known as Arthur Road Jail. As many as 182 prisoners tested positive but they are recovering. This jail saw a high point in May when 183 prisoners and 48 prison staff tested positive. Arthur Road Jail is primarily for undertrials. It has 1,731 inmates currently, which is double its holding capacity.

Given the high rate of infection, prison officials no longer wait to see if an inmate has symptoms. Random testing has been initiated and if anyone tests positive, then he/she is isolated in a quarantine ward within the prison and treated there. Patients are shifted to a government hospital if their condition worsens. Dietary changes have been instituted so that prisoners’ immunity is maintained. Hygiene classes have also been started to lessen chances of the virus spreading.

Four jails—Mumbai’s Central Prison, Byculla Women’s Prison, Thane and Kalyan jails—are not accepting new male inmates anymore. Taloja Central Jail in Pune district only accepts new inmates once they have tested negative. After the tests, prisoners are sent to quarantine in makeshift premises in a local school.

The recovery rate at the Arthur Road, Nagpur, Aurangabad, Osmanabad and Byculla Women’s jails has been 100 per cent. Of all the 47 jails in Maharashtra, 34 have active cases.

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