Govt prepares to reduce number of prisoners and detainees amid virus scareThe Office of the Attorney General has requested the Supreme Court’s Full Bench to make necessary changes to the existing legal provisions to reduce the possibility of outbreaks in overcrowded prisons and detention centres.
Fearing the spread of coronavirus in overcrowded prisons and detention centres, the government has started preparations to lower the number of prisoners and detainees.
The Office of the Attorney General plans to use judicial as well as executive orders to review existing legal provisions to allow prisoners and detainees behind bars over minor offences.
“We already have legal provisions to suspend punishments handed to juvenile delinquents,” said Deputy Attorney General Narayan Prasad Sharma.There are also provisions to allow authorities to water down sentences handed to elderly citizens.
“For legal issues related to other cases, the office of the Attorney General will request the Full Bench of the Supreme Court for a review on Friday,” Sharma said.
This comes after officials from the Office of the Attorney General office on Thursday consulted Inspector General Thakur Prasad Gyawali, home ministry Secretary Maheswor Neupane, Director General of Department of Prison Management Gajendra Bahadur Shrestha and other stakeholders on the issue.
According to the Department of Prison Management, 25,107 people—around 57 percent more than the number of people the country’s jails can hold—are behind bars in the country.
“We discussed possible ways to reduce the crowd in the prisons and detention centres,” Gyawali told the Post. Similarly, Deputy Attorney General Narayan Prasad Sharma, said, “We discussed ways to reduce the number of prisoners and detainees so as to lessen the risk of an outbreak of the deadly coronavirus.”
The Office of the Attorney General has requested the Supreme Court’s Full Bench to make necessary changes to the existing legal provisions to reduce the possibility of outbreaks in overcrowded prisons and detention centres, said Sharma.
According to the office, the Criminal Offence (Sentencing Determination and Implementation) Act, 2017 authorities can reduce up to 50 percent of a convict’s sentence after taking his/her conduct into account.
After the court reviews the request made by the Office of the Attorney General, and decides on the minimum prison sentence (in terms of percent) a convict has to serve before he/she is released, the government will have to make a formal decision to release the prisoners who fulfil the criteria set by the court
Following the meeting on Thursday, the Office of the Attorney General directed the Ministry of Home Affairs, Nepal Police and the Department of Prison Management to carry out necessary groundwork to reduce the number of people in the country’s prisons. The meeting also discussed ways to reduce risks at the eight government-run juvenile reform homes, which currently hold 821 children.
Earlier on Thursday, Parliament’s Law, Justice and Human Rights Committee issued a directive to the government to reduce the number of prisoners through a policy decision to manage prisons in view of the coronavirus outbreak.
Frequently asked questions about the coronavirus outbreak
UPDATED as of April 5, 2020
What is Covid-19?
Covid-19, short for coronavirus disease, is an illness caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, short for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. Common symptoms of the disease include fever, dry cough, fatigue, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In severe cases, the infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.
How contagious is Covid-19?
Covid-19 can spread easily from person to person, especially in enclosed spaces. The virus can travel through the air in respiratory droplets produced when a sick person breathes, talks, coughs or sneezes. As the virus can also survive on plastic and steel surfaces for up to 72 hours and on cardboard for up to 24 hours, any contact with such surfaces can also spread the virus. Symptoms take between two to 14 days to appear, during which time the carrier is believed to be contagious.
Where did the virus come from?
The virus was first identified in Wuhan, China in late December. The coronavirus is a large family of viruses that is responsible for everything from the common cold to Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). After an initial outbreak in Wuhan that spread across Hubei province, eventually infecting over 80,000 and killing more than 3,000, new infection rates in mainland China have dropped. However, the disease has since spread across the world at an alarming rate.
What is the current status of Covid-19?
The World Health Organisation has called the ongoing outbreak a “pandemic” and urged countries across the world to take precautionary measures. As of Wednesday, Covid-19 had spread to 204 countries and infected more than 11,79,733 people with 63,908 deaths. In South Asia, India has reported the highest number of infections at 2,902 with 68 deaths. While Pakistan has reported 2,708 confirmed cases with 41 deaths. Nepal has so far reported nine cases, in which one patient recovered.
How dangerous is the disease?
The mortality rate for Covid-19 is estimated to be 3.6 percent, but new studies have put the rate slightly higher at 5.7 percent. Although Covid-19 is not too dangerous to young healthy people, older individuals and those with immune-compromised systems are at greater risk of death. People with chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes and lung disease, or those who’ve recently undergone serious medical procedures, are also at risk.
How do I keep myself safe?
The WHO advises that the most important thing you can do is wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizers with at least 60 percent alcohol content. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unclean hands. Clean and disinfect frequently used surfaces like your computers and phones. Avoid large crowds of people. Seek medical attention if symptoms persist for longer than a few days.
Is it time to panic?
No. The government has imposed a lockdown to limit the spread of the virus. There is no need to begin stockpiling food, cooking gas or hand sanitizers. However, it is always prudent to take sensible precautions like the ones identified above.