Coronavirus Outbreak: Supreme Court Asks States To Consider Releasing Some Prisoners To Reduce Crowd In Jails
Cameras lined up outside the Supreme Court of India. (Source: PTI)

Coronavirus Outbreak: Supreme Court Asks States To Consider Releasing Some Prisoners To Reduce Crowd In Jails

The Supreme Court today asked states to consider release of undertrials and prisoners charged or convicted for crimes where maximum punishment is less than seven years to decongest jails amid the coronavirus pandemic.

’’The State/Union Territory could consider the release of prisoners who have been convicted or are undertrial for offences for which prescribed punishment is up to seven years or less, with or without fine, and the prisoner has been convicted for a lesser number of years than the maximum,’’ said the top court’s order.

It asked each state to set up a committee to take steps for reducing overcrowding in jail. The panel will comprise the principal secretary, director general of prisons and the state legal services committee chairman. They will work on crowd management inside prisons, coordination within prisons and to shift inmates from overcrowded jails to the less-crowded ones.

‘’It is made clear that we leave it open for the high powered committee to determine the category of prisoners who should be released as aforesaid, depending upon the nature of offence, the number of years to which he or she has been sentenced or the severity of the offence with which he/she is charged with and is facing trial or any other relevant factor, which the committee may consider appropriate,’’ the Supreme Court order said.

Also read: Coronavirus Outbreak: Supreme Court, Delhi Courts To Only Hear Urgent Cases Via Video

The court also directed the states to ensure:

  • Prisons must ensure maximum possible distancing among the prisoners including undertrials.
  • Physical presence of all the undertrial prisoners before the courts must be stopped forthwith and recourse to video-conferencing must be taken for all purposes.
  • Transfer of prisoners from one prison to another for routine reasons must not be resorted except for decongestion to ensure social distancing and medical assistance to an ill prisoner.
  • There should not be any delay in shifting a sick person to a nodal medical institution in case of any possibility of infection is seen.

The Chief Justice of India-led bench directed prison-specific readiness and response plans to be developed in consultation with medical experts. The order came in a suo motu hearing taken up by the court to assess the situation in prisons after the pandemic broke out.

The case will come up for hearing after three weeks.

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