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Contagion Breaks Into Two Jails, Infects 92; Many Prisoners Coming Out On Parole

SRINAGAR: As many as 92 prisoners are reported to have tested positive in Jammu and Kashmir’s two jails. The fresh detections were reported from Kupwara jail in Kashmir and Udhampur jail in Jammu. It was at Udhampur where Mohammad Ashraf Sehraie, 77, was imprisoned and died of Covid19 early May.

Officials said 72 prisoners and seven staff members tested positive in Udhampur district jail. There are 479 people in Udhampur Jail, Superintendent of Udhampur Jail, Harish Kotwal told reports, asserting the swabs were collected and tested on Sunday.

In Kupwara, all 272 prisoners were subjected to test and 20 tested positive.

Since all the tests were taken using Rapid Antigen Test (RAT), those who tested negative may have to go for the other test to ensure they are free from the disease.

Media reports quoted officials saying that all those who tested positive lacked symptoms and were separated from others.

Last year, two elderly prisoners, one each in district jail Rajouri and Sub-jail Bhaderwah, succumbed to the virus, while the rest of the 540 infected prisoners recovered.

Early May, as many as 21 prisoners tested positive in Kathua jail, while one inmate each was tested positive in district jail Jammu and Central Jail Kotbhalwal.

An Important Meeting

Meanwhile, the 11th High Powered Committee (HPC) passed a slew of directions for the release of jail inmates, except those involved in serious crimes, to decongest the prisons in J&K. Justice Ali Mohammad Magrey, who is also Executive Chairman of J&K Legal Services Authority, presided over the meeting.

The committee oversees the implementation of directions of the Supreme Court of India with regard to the containment of Coronavirus in prisons and was attended by Principal Secretary Home, Shaleen Kabra, DGP Prisons, Dr B Srinivas; Member Secretary JK Legal Services Authority, MK Sharma and other concerned.

The Committee was constituted by the Jammu and Kashmir government following an order by the Supreme Court on March 23, 2020, and May 07, 2021, directing the States and the UTs to decongest jails to ensure social distancing among the prisoners.

The Members of the Committee discussed and deliberated upon the proposed category of prisoners, who may be considered for grant of interim bail for 90 days in view of the present circumstances.

The Committee decided to release all the jail inmates who were earlier released on parole or on interim bail for 90 days as per the directions of the Supreme Court in March 2020.

Justice Magrey directed the Member Secretary, J&K Legal Services Authority to coordinate with the other two members of the Committee to find out the category of convicts/UTPs who can also be released pursuant to the directions of the Supreme Court. Such an exercise shall be completed within a week and the report be placed before the Committee.

Justice Magrey directed the DGP (Prisons) to coordinate with the Health Department to ensure vaccination of jail inmates as well as staff on priority.

Besides, the Committee directed the jail authorities to take appropriate steps by ensuring that the inmates and the staff wear masks and maintain social distancing and by keeping the frequently visited areas like kitchen, bathrooms etc. hygienic to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Justice Magrey further directed the Legal Service Institutions across J&K to provide the services of Panel Lawyers to the inmates who are eligible to be released from the custody by moving applications on their behalf.

It also called for the additional release of prisoners on paroles or interim bail orders for which DGP Prisons and member Secretary JKLSA were asked to work out modalities within the stipulated time.

The Committee also suggested the creation of additional accommodation or temporary accommodation within or outside jail complexes for ensuring strict adherence to Standard Operating Protocols (SOPs) of COVID-19 issued by the medical experts.

Further, the high powered committee also decided to discontinue all the visits of outside visitors including NGOs but while doing so the families of the jail inmates will have excess to meet the prisoners by use of virtual mode or by phones.

Frequent sanitization of jails and better medical facilities were also decided to be ensured in all the jails of J&K.

The Committee decided to accelerate to hold awareness campaigns among jail inmates regarding SOPs to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Committee further decided to ensure the safety of prisoners by frequent testing and complete vaccination of jail inmates along with the jail staff.

It also called for the measures like transportation of released inmates by providing them proper transport facilities in view of Corona curfew.

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