New Delhi: The Supreme Court has ordered an extension to the emergency parole of all inmates released from jails in March 2020, during the first wave of the pandemic. But data with Delhi Prison authorities show that out of the 4,684 undertrial and convict prisoners released on interim bail last year, only 2,334 returned while 2,350 absconded.
The undertrial prisoners accounted for 3,500, of which only 1,250 inmates returned to jails while 2,250 absconded — 65 per cent, showed the data.
Among the 1,184 convicts released on emergency parole, 1,084 returned and 100 absconded.
Moreover, at least 180 of these released inmates went back to committing crime and were re-arrested in cases of robbery, snatching and theft. The involvement of over 200 others, who are absconding, is suspected in several cases.
This came despite the fact that a high powered committee was set up, which in consultation with the State Legal Service Authority, decided that inmates charged with or convicted of offences with jail terms of up to seven years should be considered for parole.
In Delhi, it was decided that undertrials charged with a single crime whose punishment is of seven years or less and who have spent three months in jail, will be considered for interim bail to start with.
Each case considered for release was scrutinised by the high-powered panel and only inmates with a “clean record” — prisoners without any disciplinary complaints or poor remarks by jail superintendents — finally made it to the list.
“Despite these checks, over 150 inmates who were released on emergency parole went back to committing crimes like snatching, robbery, burglary and were re-arrested,” a senior Delhi Police officer said on condition of anonymity.
“We also have intel on many who have gone back to their gangs. Also, names of many who were let out on parole have emerged in investigations. Their role is suspected in cases. They, however, are absconding,” the officer said.
Delhi has three prisons — Tihar, Mandoli and Rohini — where over 19,500 prisoners are lodged against the capacity of 10,000.
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 went up to 535 Covid on 7 May. This included 176 prison staff.
Delhi Police trying to trace absconding inmates
After over 65 per cent undertrials jumped parole and absconded last year, the Delhi Police started efforts to trace them.
“We collected the list of inmates who did not return after their parole ended and are now absconding, from jail authorities. The list was shared with all district DCPs (deputy commissioners of police). Visits to homes of these undertrials and convicts were made, their friends and family contacted. Also, surveillance was mounted, help was sought from sources,” said a second senior police officer who didn’t wish to be named.
With the second wave and cases of infections rising, however, the focus shifted and the police got busy with Covid duties.
“We will not say that the exercise to trace them who have absconded is not on, but yes the focus has shifted a little, because of the rise in Covid cases. The need of the hour is to extend whatever help we can to contain this pandemic,” the officer said.
“Moreover, there are now orders from the apex court to not make arrests in crimes sentenced with less than seven years of imprisonment or unless absolutely necessary, to decongest prisons. Also, there is very less scope of custodial interrogation,” the officer said. “We, however, are certain that we will trace them all once this wave settles. Some of our teams are still working on leads.”
‘SC order may lead to increase in crime’
With the Supreme Court’s order last week to not arrest accused unless necessary and extend parole of inmates, many senior officers feel that it may lead to an increase in crime.
“We should be prepared to suffer some crime to protect the criminals from Covid. The crime situation was under control till now. But with many criminals absconding and no more arrests, things may go haywire. Special measures will have to be taken to ensure that the situation remains under control. A rise in crime figures in the coming days should not surprise people,” a third senior police officer said.
“Data shows that 1,316 inmates who were released in the last one and a half years, took to crime again. Also many who were released on emergency parole due to Covid, went back to the circle and started committing crimes. So, this may embolden those criminals to indulge in criminal activities again,” the officer added.
A third officer, however, said it is an important measure to decongest prisons and save lives, as arrests can be made even later.
“There is a need for more jails, correction homes as the jails are so overcrowded. In the current situation, we cannot afford more deaths and cases of Covid, hence releasing inmates seems to be a solution,” the officer said.
“As far as the lockdown is in place, the street crime will remain checked. Later, however, there could be an increase, but the police are well equipped to handle that. For those who have absconded, will definitely be traced and put back in jails,” he added.