17/08/2020 12:29 PM IST | Updated 17/08/2020 12:46 PM IST

Will Jail Outbreaks Be Kerala's Next Covid Worry?

Over 350 inmates have tested positive at the Thiruvananthapuram central jail and the number is likely to go up as the state increases testing.

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Representative image. 

Over 350 inmates at the Thiruvananthapuram central jail in Kerala have tested positive for Covid-19 in the past week, with as many as 145 cases being detected just on Sunday. 

Authorities started testing all inmates after a prisoner died of coronavirus on Sunday.

“An undertrial prisoner in a murder case, who was lodged here since 2016, passed away at the medical college hospital. He was admitted to the hospital on 10 August,” jail superintendent Santhosh S told PTI.

Two of the infected people had been shifted to hospitals and the others, all asymptomatic, were being given adequate treatment, he added. Officials told Hindustan Times that the number of cases is likely to go up as 250 more inmates will be tested on Monday.

A total of 960 prisoners are lodged in the central prison at Poojappura in Thiruvananthapuram, according to The New Indian Express. Its capacity is 727, the report added.

Activists have raised concerns that India’s overcrowded, unhygienic prisons can become an epicentre for the pandemic. The World Health Organisation has warned that prisons across the world can expect “huge mortality rates” from COVID-19 unless they take immediate action. 

In March, the Supreme Court ordered states and union territories to decongest prisons by considering the release of undertrials and those convicted of offences with maximum seven years jail term.

In Kerala, after the outbreak, the Prisons Department has decided to step up decongestion, according to The New Indian Express. Around 1,100 prisoners were moved out after the government ratified the department’s proposal to release all eligible prisoners on parole, the report added. After a high court order, around 690 under-trial prisoners were also released on interim bail in March.

Since May, the prison department in Kerala, PTI reported, has been screening new remand prisoners for Covid-19 and only those who test negative were being lodged in various jails.

Other states have also seen an outbreak in their prisons in recent months. At least 224 inmates of Bihar’s Araria district jail have tested positive for Covid-19, officials said on Friday. 

Jailor Pramod Das told PTI, “the premises have a capacity of 600. But, at present we are accommodating 706 prisoners. Nearly a third of them have been infected with the coronavirus.” Araria District Magistrate Prashanth Kumar CH said steps are being taken to decongest the jail premises. 

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Meanwhile, over 1,000 prisoners had tested positive in Maharashtra till Friday. Arthur Road jail reported 182 cases among inmates and 46 among jail officials. Several prisoners, who have recovered, have agreed to donate plasma. Inspector general of police (prisons) Deepak Pandey told The Times of India last week that they volunteered to donate plasma and authorities are coordinating with agencies.  

Cases were also reported from Delhi’s three prisons — Tihar, Mandoli and Rohini — last month.  

In an interview with HuffPost India in March, Advocate Ajay Verma, convener of the National Forum for Prison Reforms, had said that even if one case goes under the radar, Covid-19 will spread very quickly in India’s prisons. “It will be a horrible situation if coronavirus starts spreading in prisons.”

(With PTI inputs)

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