Coronavirus: Punjab mulls release of 5,800 jail inmates

Coronavirus outbreak: Punjab mulling release of 5,800 jail inmates

At present, Punjab has a total of 23,800 prisoners lodged in its 19 jails, including nine central prisons, against a housing capacity for only 23,300 inmates.

The Punjab Jails Department has mooted a proposal to release around 3,000 drug peddlers and 2,800 petty criminals lodged in various jails in the state to curb prison overcrowding and contain coronavirus outbreak.

“We have proposed to the state government to take a decision on releasing 3,000 inmates who have been caught with a small quantity of drugs and booked in the NDPS cases after consulting with courts and police,” Jails Minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa said here on Wednesday.

The minister added that he has also proposed the release of petty criminals, numbering around 2,800, after due consideration. He said they are in jails for crimes like snatching.

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He said these measures have been suggested to prevent the spread of coronavirus outbreak in jails.

Randhawa said he made these suggestions to Chief Minister Amarinder Singh in a meeting which was called after the Supreme Court took cognisance of the country's overcrowded prisons being a fertile ground for the spurt in coronavirus cases and suggesting remedial measures.

Taking suo motu cognisance of overcrowding in jails, an apex court bench of Chief Justice S A Bobde and Justice L N Rao had on Monday issued notices to prisons' director generals and chief secretaries of all states and Union territories, seeking to know by March 20 the steps taken to prevent corona outbreak in jails.

At present, Punjab has a total of 23,800 prisoners lodged in its 19 jails, including nine central prisons, against a housing capacity for only 23,300 inmates.

Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, meanwhile, said the state government is mulling taking steps for release of prisoners, convicted for minor offences, on bail and giving parole to those who have spent considerable time in jail.

He made the remark while pointing out that the Supreme Court had talked about decongesting prisons.

In a statement, the chief minister later said the final decision on release of prisoners would depend on courts and said the state's Advocate General Atul Nanda was taking up the matter with the chief justice of the Punjab and Haryana High Court.

The prison department has already suspended the inmates' meetings with their relatives and family members till March 31.

Sharing details about steps being taken to prevent COVID-19 infection in jails, Jails minister Randhawa said they have distributed masks and sanitiser to inmates. He said these items were prepared within jails.

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