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COVID-19 fear: PIL plea deplores overcrowding of prisons

It seeks direction to State to take necessary steps to sort out issues

March 24, 2020 09:39 pm | Updated 09:39 pm IST

MADURAI

A week after the Supreme Court suo motu took cognisance of overcrowding of prisons in the wake of the spread of COVID-19, a public interest litigation petition was filed before the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court seeking a direction to the State to take necessary steps in this regard.

Representing Prisoners Reform Intervention Support Mission (PRISM), its coordinator P. Thangaraj said the World Health Organisation had declared COVID-19 a pandemic and guidelines had been issued to the public to take precautionary measures.

People had been asked to maintain social distance and avoid mass gathering. Under these circumstances, overcrowding of prisons had turned out to be a major concern. The Central prisons in the State at Puzhal and Madurai were witnessing overcrowding.

The petitioner said steps must be taken to address this issue urgently. In order to ease the situation, arrest and remand of petty offenders could be reduced to a minimum and such prisoners could be enlarged on bail on own bond.

Conducting prison adalats would reduce the risk of contagion and they could be held through video conferencing. In the case of parole, the leave period could be extended. Pleas for parole and leave must be considered leniently, he said.

The petitioner further said preventive measures were of paramount importance. Therefore, there should be periodic sanitisation of prison cells, hand sanitisers and masks should be made available to jail staff, and special check-up of the health condition of all prison inmates and new admissions should be done.

Quarantine and isolation wards must be provided at the prisons and new admissions must be quarantined for 14 days. Testing kits should be made available at prison hospitals, he said.

The petitioner also sought a direction to ban entry of family members, visitors and outsiders into prison premises. Instead, the prisoners should be allowed frequent use of phones to contact their family members. Also, trial could be held through video conferencing, he suggested.

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