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SC orders re-release of all eligible prisoners to prevent COVID-19 spread in prisons

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 again in view of the surge in COVID cases.

An order to this effect was passed by the Supreme Court on Friday directing High­ Powered Committees (HPC) constituted by the State Governments/ Union Territories to immediately free such prisoners temporarily.

Besides such prisoners, the HPCs should also consider fresh release by adopting the guidelines including standard operating procedure and guidelines laid down by National Legal Services Authority, at the earliest.

Those States which have not constituted High Powered Committees last year should do so immediately, a special Bench of Chief Justice NV Ramana and Justices L Nageswara Rao and Surya Kant added.

The 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,” the Court said.

It further directed that 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 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 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 High­ Powered 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.

The Court in its order also noted that some prisoners might not be willing to be released in view of their social background and the fear of becoming victims of the deadly virus.

“In such extraordinary cases, the authorities are directed to be considerate to the concerns of the inmates. The authorities are directed to ensure that proper medical facilities are provided to all prisoners who are imprisoned,” the Court added.

 

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