Cases rise but over 87% inmates in Delhi’s prisons can’t get Covid shot. Age is the culprit

Cases rise but over 87% inmates in Delhi’s prisons can’t get Covid shot. Age is the culprit

Currently, the Delhi government has only approved vaccination for jail inmates above the age of 45. Prison authorities have written to the AAP government to extend it to those between 18-44 years.

Representational image | A security person stands guard at Tihar jail in New Delhi | ANI File Photo

Representational image | A security person stands guard before a jail in New Delhi | ANI File Photo

New Delhi: With the Delhi government not yet opening vaccination for prison inmates aged below 45 years, over 87 per cent of those serving sentences in the capital’s prisons are still ineligible for shots. This has posed a serious challenge to the prison authorities, struggling to curb the Covid outbreak among inmates.

In the past one month, there’s been a steep rise in the number of inmates and prison staff infected with Covid. On 14 April, 70 inmates and 11 prison staff were Covid positive. The number of positive cases had gone up to 535 on 7 May. This included 176 prison staff.

According to data shared by prison authorities, of the 19,500 inmates currently lodged across the three Delhi prisons — Tihar, Mandoli and Rohini — only 2,500 are above the age of 45 years, and hence eligible for vaccination. The remaining 17,000 inmates, 87 per cent of the total inmates population, are still not eligible to be vaccinated.

Sandeep Goel, Director General of Prisons, had written to the Delhi government last week, seeking a go-ahead to vaccinate inmates who are 18 years and above.

“We have taken it up with the Delhi government, as most of the inmates are below the age of 45 years. The government has been asked to give a go-ahead, a response is awaited,” said Goel.

ThePrint also contacted the Delhi Government media coordinator Pritam Pal, Aam Aadmi Party spokesperson and MLA Saurabh Bharadwaj, and Shaleen Mitra, advisor to Delhi Health Minister Satyendar Jain, over phone and text messages, to find out why vaccination for inmates below 45 years of age has not been opened yet, but there was no response until the time of publication of this report.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has also passed an order to curb the spread of Covid infection in the capital’s prisons. Measures suggested include extending parole and cutting down on arrests.

Prison authorities have also started treating Covid positive inmates in prison jails to ensure proper care of the patients.

Also read: ‘Least crowded’ Tihar’s women jail has highest number of Covid cases of all Delhi prisons

‘Vaccination is the solution’

Concerned about the spike in Covid cases in prisons, the Supreme Court Saturday passed a detailed order on decongesting prisons.

One of the directives of the apex court was that the police should not arrest the accused, unless necessary, for crimes where the sentence is less than seven years imprisonment. The court also directed authorities to ensure that proper medical facilities are provided to inmates and to extend parole of all prisoners who were released during the first wave of the pandemic.

A senior prison officer, speaking on the condition of anonymity, however, said that “the best way to control the virus inside the prison was to vaccinate everyone at a quick pace. If the required doses are sent, it can be done.”

As yet, of the 2,500 inmates above the age of 45 years, 912 have been fully vaccinated. While 650 inmates have been vaccinated in Tihar, 112 were vaccinated in Rohini and 150 inmates received the shots in Mandoli.

The Delhi Government has the details of the number of prison inmates in the city, based on which doses of vaccines are sanctioned.

Also read: Prisoner-staff violence common in Delhi jails. Govt and courts are unable to stop it

Treating their own

To tackle the surge, apart from measures like ensuring social distancing among prisoners and increased testing, jail authorities have now started admitting most of the infected patients at their own hospitals, instead of sending them to hospitals outside the jail. This, the authorities believe, will ensure proper care.

There are two hospitals — one in jail number 3 in Tihar and the other in Jail number 13 in Mandoli — that are being used to treat inmates with mild and moderate symptoms.

“Earlier we were sending all infected inmates to hospitals outside the jail. Now we are treating many of them at our own hospital, which ensures proper care,” said Goel.

Director General of Prisons also said that vaccinating inmates have helped a great deal.

“We have tried to vaccinate in a big way with available resources. The vaccination has started in all the three prisons and we want to do it for all inmates, so that the spread of virus can be curbed,” said Goel. “This is why we have also requested the Delhi Government to open it [vaccinations] for all prisoners,” he added.

(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)

Also read: Gurugram woman’s petition brings back focus on prisoners’ conjugal rights