COVID-19 was first identified in December 2019 in Wuhan, China, and has managed to spread globally resulting in the ongoing pandemic. The entire world has come to a pause confining to a slow pace of living. COVID-19 is defining the global health crisis and creating a health emergency all over the world. But it is more than a health crisis, it has the potential to create devastating social, economic and political crisis. Everyday people are losing their jobs and income, staying indoors and deserting the cities all around, with no way of knowing when normality will return.
As covid-19 pandemic wreaks havoc all across the world, the prisoners have also been sounded by the alarm. Jails provides high risk environment that catalyse the easy transmission of pathogens, creating a major vulnerability on the prisoners. Looking back at the history as well the pandemic has not been easy on the part of the prisoners. The major pandemic waves including the Asiatic Cholera -1832, 1918 influenza pandemic claimed lives of many prisoners resulting in the rapid increase of mortality of prisoners already in bad health conditions. Prisons have been facing issues of poor health conditions during the normal situation as well, as a result of bad sanitation and being overcrowded.
The enhancement of cleanliness regimes and early release of inmates are now being considered by the government all over the world. Although those measures are being considered, resonances between the official responses to Covid-19 and actual management of the pandemic in prison can be observed.
The International Committee of Red Cross has noted that a significant proportion of country’s prison population suffers from pre-existing heart and respiratory diseases, which may exacerbate the severity of COVID-19. Amnesty International have also demanded the government to address the ventilation, hygiene and sanitation conditions in prisons that contribute to the spread of coronavirus.
In Nepal, in order to minimize the spread and maintain safety of other prisoners and staffs working there. The Supreme Court made a decision to “release the prisoners sentenced up to 1 year in prison for minor crimes.” The Section-155 of 2017 Criminal Code allows authorities to release inmates sentenced for up to a year in jail by converting their jail terms into fines.
The Department of Prison Management said that following the decision of the Supreme Court, from the 418 who applied for early release ,409 have been released so far, among them 219 were released from juvenile correction homes. However, people committing serious crimes such as rape, trafficking etc. are taken into custody. The department is also taking the measures by making arrangements for quarantine facilities and banning visitors in the prison in an attempt to safeguard others who remain in the prison.
Right to life is the basic fundamental right every citizen must be ensured with, it is the duty of government to provide it. This pandemic is posing a major threat on their lives so the government is taking actions to protect it. Considering the bad sanitation conditions in the jail it can cater for easy transmission of diseases, that poses additional threat on the lives of the prisoners. Releasing the prisoners will not only benefit the released but also others who still remain in prison.
Accounting to the fact that prisons have a challenge for social distancing, it also frees up the prison’s space and gives more room to other prisoners as well. The government has restricted the movement of people, in order to take proper care of the prisoner’s health. There must be proper management of health services to treat diseases other than COVID-19 as well. The release of the prisoners does not pose threat to the society because they committed minor crimes on the contrary to major crimes.
I believe that the decision of Supreme Court under Section-155 is not necessarily fair for all, because not everyone is financially stable and they would rather serve their jail term than pay the fine. The court can practice the provision of amnesty to ensure more fairness.
The entire world has been struck with this catastrophe of COVID-19, government all over the world are taking measures to minimize the spread of the virus and protecting the prisoners in this scenario. It will require all the society to limit the spread and cushion the potentially devastating impacts. The current crisis reminds us the institutionalised populations created are so vulnerable when such pandemic takes hold.
By : RIMSHA YADAV