Safeguarding Prison Health during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic
Appeal from health care and public health professionals to Chief Justices of High Courts and High Powered Committees of states and Union Territories
Friday, June 18, 2021
Dear friends and colleagues,
We are approaching you to consider endorsing the below appeal addressed to Chief Justices of High Courts across the country and High-Powered Committees (HPCs) constituted by states and Union Territories (UTs) as per the Supreme Court of India order dated March 23, 2020 (Re: Contagion of COVID 19 Virus in Prison [Suo Motu Writ Petition (Civil) No.1/2020]) towards decongesting prisons. Because the efforts made so far are inadequate, especially against the backdrop of ravaging second wave of the pandemic, we are demanding immediate attention of High Courts and HPCs to do the needful, amongst other, consider health related and other wide-ranging vulnerabilities as determining factors for consideration of release of prisoners.
Please read the appeal /letter below. For an overview of the issue at hand, you may refer to a brief note.
Kindly send your endorsements by 21.06.21 (Monday) 7 PM.
Forum for Medical Ethics Society (FMES); and
Jan Swasthya Abhiyan (JSA)
In view of this, we urge HPCs across all states and UTs to take urgently the following steps:
- Include medical professionals, medical social workers, public health professionals, health department officials and relevant civil society organisations in these Committees to facilitate and monitor the release of prison inmates.
- Urgently convene to discuss and modify the categories of prisoners to be considered for release, giving priority to the health status of the prisoners, especially the under-trial prisoners (UTPs).
- Use the criteria of age and vulnerability across prisoners and treat everyone equally irrespective of charges/offense; and release those who are thus eligible, subject to their consent.
- Ensure that all health facilities, such as, testing, contact tracing and treatment are available, by linking up with local hospitals from public and private sectors, for safeguarding health of the prisoners who are not released, to ensure their access to timely and dignified health care.
- Take this opportunity to ensure speedy trials, granting of bail and releasing those who have been granted bail.
- Categorise prisoners as one of the priority groups for vaccination and offer vaccination to all prisoners in a safe and non-coercive manner.
- Given the hesitation among some prisoners to return to their homes due to fear of hunger and poor living conditions, ensure that the released prisoners and their families have timely access to medical care and relief measures such as food rations, and are not denied entitlements under national and state programmes.;
- Utilize this opportunity to prioritize improvement of prison conditions and implement long overdue prison reforms: such as increasing budgets for prison health facilities, improvement of the living conditions in prisons, and appointment of requisite medical and other staff, for protecting life, liberty and dignity of prisoners.