In the possibility of the second wave of COVID this winter, the prisons directorate has sought the intervention of the Orissa High Court to prevent the jails in the state from becoming overcrowded.
Following an Apex Court directive to states, the authorities concerned had taken steps to decongest the jails between April & July, but the situation is back to square one with prisons packed.
The prisons directorate has requested the HC to ask the Lower Courts not to remand the accused in judicial custody, if the punishment of the offences committed by the arrested persons is less than 7 years of imprisonment, to prevent overcrowding of jails.
On Tuesday Director General of prisons Santosh Upadhyay, in a letter to the Orissa HC’s registrar general said, 86 jails of the state have 18,732 inmates as against the capacity of 19,079.
The letter said, “It is quite difficult to maintain social distancing among prisoners in jails. Despite repeated requests & directives from your good office, a large number of under-trial prisoners have been remanded in different jails by various Courts for offences that have punishments below 7 years. This is in contravention to an earlier order passed by the High Court of Orissa on May 5, 2020″.
The High Court of Orissa on May 05th asked, “The Police not to arrest the accused in connection with crimes such as theft, burglary, house trespasses, obscene acts, & wrongful restraint & confinement among others where the maximum sentence is up to 7 years. It had said unless there was a necessity of arrest to maintain law & order in a cognizable offence prescribing sentence up to 7 years imprisonment, the Police shouldn’t be in a hurry to arrest the accused.”
An advisory following a recent directive by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to all states regarding the safety of prisoners & jail staff during the pandemic, had issued by the prisons directorate.
A standard operating procedure to the four major arresting authorities of the State Govt – Police, Vigilance, Excise & Forest has been issued by the Home Department. According to the SOP, “the arresting authorities will compulsorily subject all newly arrested accused persons to Covid-19 test —- either RT-PCR or rapid antigen test (RAT) —- depending on the availability of the testing facilities in their areas before producing the latter in Court & their subsequent remand in Judicial Custody.”