No case of COVID-19 among 3,628 prisoners lodged in 14 J&K jails: Official

There is no case of COVID-19 among the 3,628 prisoners lodged in 14 jails across Jammu and Kashmir, Director General of Prisons V K Singh said on Tuesday, attributing it to the prevention measures taken by officials.

He also said that currently, 150 new prisoners are undergoing mandatory 14-day quarantine within jail premises. None of them have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, Singh said.

“We have no case of COVID-19 among prisoners as well as jail staff and we are hopeful there will be none in the future given the preventive measures taken by the department for the safety of inmates,” he told reporters at the Jammu District Jail.

The prisons department is following government approved standard operating procedures (SOPs) strictly to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, the DG said.

Singh said that the SOPs were proposed to the government soon after the outbreak of the novel coronavirus and they were implemented immediately after approval.

“We also incorporated good practices adopted by other states,” he said , adding that procedures are being followed by jail staff and prisoners.

This has resulted in no COVID-19 cases among prisoners and staff, Singh said, adding that visits by relatives were stopped after the outbreak.

Inmates are contacting their relatives through the prison inmate calling system under which two pre-verified numbers of each prisoner is loaded in the calling machine, the officer said.

To facilitate trials and interaction between prisoners and their family members, video conferencing, which was initially introduced in the Jammu District Jail and the central jails in Jammu and Srinagar, was extended to all other jails, Singh said.

The DG prisons said modernisation of interaction chambers has helped the department to overcome the problem of escorting prisoners to courts during the prevailing COVID-19 crisis.

He said new prisoners undergo mandatory quarantine for 14 days. “At present, we have 150 inmates under quarantine across the prisons,” Singh said.

There are a total of 3,628 inmates in 14 jails across Jammu and Kashmir as against a capacity of 3,232, he said.

“This amounts to an occupancy rate of 112 per cent, which is below the national average of 115 percent,” he said, adding that 88 per cent of jail inmates are undertrials, seven per cent booked under the Public Safety Act and five per cent are convicts.

Referring to the Supreme Court directive to decongest jails to ensure social distancing among prisoners, he said as many as 437 undertrials were released on bail while 33 others were released on parole.

In response to a question about the recovery of a mobile phone from the central jail in Jammu in recently, Singh refused to divulge any details but said there is a constant “cat and mouse” game happening.

“We would like that lapses do not happen and we have a good equation with the police. We are constantly monitoring the situation,” he said.

Singh also highlighted various measures taken by the department to reform prisoners and said over the last one year, several top judiciary, army and civil officers have visited jails and interacted with inmates.

He said dry canteen facility has been provided in every jail and inmates are also involved in the manufacturing of face masks to overcome the shortage of the protective gear against COVID-19.

Superintendent of the district jail, Mirza Saleem Ahmad Beig, said, “Initially, we received demand (of face masks) from government departments and started making the face masks which was subsequently given to frontline workers as well.”

Beig said there is enough stock of masks and they are being sold at markets.