Supreme Court orders re-release of all Eligible Prisoners to decongest Jails amid COVID surge[Read Order]

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The Supreme Court on Friday asked states to release prisoners in a bid to decongest jails on account of the virulent second wave of coronavirus sweeping the country. A high-powered panel in each state has been tasked to determine the class of prisoners who can be released on parole or interim bail.

Prisoners across the country who were released last year due to COVID-19 pandemic and subsequently re-imprisoned after COVID-19 pandemic seemingly reduced, would be eligible for immediate release once again in view of the surge in COVID cases.

“The Covid situation is alarming and we have to decongest the prisons,” Chief Justice NV Ramana said, adding orders passed last year will have to be repeated.

In March last year, the court took suo motu cognisance of the risk of COVID-19 infection spreading within and from the overcrowded prisons across the country while passing the orders for the prisoners’ release.  

The court had reasoned that social distancing, an effective check against the virus spread, was difficult in prisons.

Around 45,000 prisoners were released in March last year after the top court’s order. The prisoners did return to the jails after the completion of the parole period.

The country is battered by a deadly surge in Covid cases that has overwhelmed its hospitals and health facilities. Various states have imposed night curfews or containment measures to check the spread of the virus.

The following directions were issued by the Court in its order:

– Strictly control and limit the authorities from arresting accused in contravention of guidelines laid down by this Court in Arnesh Kumar v. State of Bihar(supra) during pandemic;

– The High Powered Committees constituted by the State governments/Union Territories shall consider release of prisoners by adopting the guidelines (such as inter alia, SOP laid down by NALSA) followed by them last year, at the earliest;

– High Powered Committee, in addition to considering fresh release, should forthwith release all the inmates who had been released earlier pursuant to our order March 23, 2020, by imposing appropriate conditions. Such an exercise is mandated in order to save valuable time;

– Those inmates who were granted parole, pursuant to the Court’s earlier orders, should be again granted a parole for a period of 90 days in order to tide over the pandemic;

– The fight against the pandemic is greatly benefitted by transparent administration. In this regard, our attention was drawn to example of Delhi, wherein the prison occupancy is updated in websites. Such measures are required to be considered by other States and should be adopted as good practice;

– All the decisions of High­Powered Committees need to be published on respective State Legal Service Authorities/State Governments/High Courts websites in order to enable effective dissemination of information;

– Appropriate steps shall be taken for transportation of the released inmates of the prisons, if necessary, in view of the curfews and lockdown in some States;

-The spread of Covid­19 virus should be controlled in the prisons by regular testing being done of the prisoners but also the jail staff and immediate treatment should be made available to the inmates and the staff;

– It is necessary to maintain levels of daily hygiene and sanitation required to be improved. Suitable precautions shall be taken to prevent the transmission of the deadly virus amongst the inmates of prisons.

Read Order here: