Days after the Supreme Court told states to decongest jails to prevent coronavirus spread, prisons in Delhi, Assam, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and others have begun to release inmates on parole. These include undertrials sentenced for up to seven years or less. A high-powered committee in Delhi has relaxed the bail criteria. Over 400 inmates of Tihar Jail have been released whereas Uttar Pradesh gave bail to 11,000 prisoners.
ThePrint asks: Jails give Covid-19 parole: Can overstretched govt track prisoners’ movement and behaviour?
Prisoners on bail must exercise some self-surveillance and report to police stations at regular intervals
Lieutenant governor, Puducherry, & former IPS officer
This situation is unprecedented and couldn’t have been anticipated. To the best of my knowledge, it also giving bail to prisoners due to a pandemic has no past references to follow.
Hence, before this kind of challenge is resolved technologically and any system is put in place, the court orders can include a direction to the released prisoners (on a case by case basis) to report to their nearest police station at regular intervals. They should also be asked to report their current activities to the resident police station to ensure they remain under some sort of self-surveillance and under pressure to remain crime-free and maintaining peace.
The concerned police stations can be informed through existing systems. This will probably provide some checks and control.
We can try this experiment now and evaluate it after the coronavirus crisis is over.
We are deeply grateful to our readers & viewers for their time, trust and subscriptions.
Quality journalism is expensive and needs readers to pay for it. Your support will define our work and ThePrint’s future.
Cost of undertrials evading justice or bail terms is much less than prisons becoming Covid-19 incubators
Abhijit Iyer Mitra
Senior fellow, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies
Releasing prisoners during Covid-19 is a medically smart move as segregation is a key element of preventing community spread (unlike the concentration of migrant workers that many states are doing).
In Delhi’s Tihar jail (and presumably across India) 82 per cent of the prisoners are undertrials. They come under the accepted jurisprudence of punishments of less than seven years and involving physical harm being considered non-heinous, a principle accepted in today’s Delhi high court judgment. As for convicts, again the same principle is being applied with the executive privilege of granting remissions to those with one to six months left in their sentences.
This shows a measured and balanced approach, both in dealing with crime and balancing it with the need to contain the coronavirus pandemic. However, it does raise the question of tracking of prisoners being released on bail. While most will abide by their bail conditions and report at the local police stations regularly, some will not. However, the ability to evade justice, even in India, is a function of socio-economic strata (think of the globally wanted Brazilian fugitive Carlos Ghosn) with the police having a fairly good ability to detain those lower down the pecking order. Obviously, this comes at a cost, which is still much less than turning prisons into Covid-19 incubators.
Moreover, the space freed can be used as safe quarantine wards for those in jail for heinous crimes.
Any violation of terms during lockdown will stand against prisoners out on bail due to Covid-19 in the future
Former Director General, Delhi Police
Even in ordinary circumstances, police and prison authorities have no reason and obligation to track the prisoners released or bailed out on parole, because it is impossible to track them. It is the legal duty of the prisoners to obey the various terms cast on them. That is the condition on which they are being released on bail and so the responsibility to act as per law lies solely with them.
If there is any violation of those conditions, the release order can be cancelled straightaway and in the future, it can become a point against the person to deny bail. The circumstances today due to the coronavirus pandemic are extraordinary, and it is extremely difficult in prison conditions to maintain the required hygiene or social (physical) distancing.
Everyone is supposed to stay at home. Even the prisoners will have to go back to their respective homes and stay inside. If they come out of their homes in any case, they will find the waiting police officers whose presence is more than usual. Curfew-like situations prevail everywhere and the police is also out there to enforce the nationwide lockdown. So the possibility of a prisoner out on bail doing something wrong and trying to get away from the given situation would be severely less.
Stats say 99% prisoners abide by parole; police machinery is competent to track the few absconders
Research fellow, Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy
As per the directions of the Supreme Court, state governments are releasing prison inmates on parole to decongest overcrowded prisons. Such steps are essential to evade the situation where prisons might become an epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic.
Although there are several questions regarding prisoners committing crimes when on parole, it generally stems from an outdated view of prisons as a punishment centre rather than a reformatory body.
As per the Prison Statistics, 2018, out of 31297 inmates released on parole, only 343 cases of parole absconders were reported (1.1 per cent). The police were able to arrest 150 of these absconders.
Statistics reveal that almost 99 per cent of the prison inmates abide by parole. Further, the police machinery is competent to track down the few remaining absconders.
As the country is on a 21-day lockdown and a large part of government machinery is invested in implementing this and quarantine measures, the movement of an individual is already restricted. These measures can further assist in tracking movement and behaviour of the released inmates.
In a situation where society is living under fear, such compassion and high regard to the fundamental rights of the prisoners is expected from the government.
By Unnati Sharma, journalist at ThePrint
News media is in a crisis & only you can fix it
You are reading this because you value good, intelligent and objective journalism. We thank you for your time and your trust.
You also know that the news media is facing an unprecedented crisis. It is likely that you are also hearing of the brutal layoffs and pay-cuts hitting the industry. There are many reasons why the media’s economics is broken. But a big one is that good people are not yet paying enough for good journalism.
We have a newsroom filled with talented young reporters. We also have the country’s most robust editing and fact-checking team, finest news photographers and video professionals. We are building India’s most ambitious and energetic news platform. And we aren’t even three yet.
At ThePrint, we invest in quality journalists. We pay them fairly and on time even in this difficult period. As you may have noticed, we do not flinch from spending whatever it takes to make sure our reporters reach where the story is. Our stellar coronavirus coverage is a good example. You can check some of it here.
This comes with a sizable cost. For us to continue bringing quality journalism, we need readers like you to pay for it. Because the advertising market is broken too.
If you think we deserve your support, do join us in this endeavour to strengthen fair, free, courageous, and questioning journalism, please click on the link below. Your support will define our journalism, and ThePrint’s future. It will take just a few seconds of your time.