Officials fear things for the worse in Nepal’s overcrowded prisons as four inmates die in central jailOf the four, one had tested positive for the coronavirus and as precaution the prison has set up isolation but it is full.
After the death of four prisoners in central jail, one of whom tested positive for the coronavirus, on Tuesday, the overcrowded prisons have become a cause for concern for officials.
With over 111 inmates and 85 security officials at prisons across the country testing positive so far, prisons are becoming hotspots of virus transmissions.
“Reports of the three others are yet to come,” said Laxmi Prasad Sapkota, jailor at the Central Jail. “They were already suffering from chronic diseases like diabetes, blood pressure and kidney problems, and were being treated at Bir Hospital and the person who was tested positive was undergoing treatment at Mega Hospital.”
The coronavirus positive man was from Kanchanpur and the other three were also males aged between 58 and 64 years who were brought to Kathmandu for treatment from outside the Valley, he said.
As Covid-19 cases continue to surge across the country, officials fear that the coronavirus could spread like wildfire among prisoners living in close quarters where physical distancing is impossible.
According to Debarsi Sapkota, information officer at the Department of Prison Management, a total of 850 tests were conducted in seven prisons across the country out of which 111 inmates and 85 personnel were tested positive.
“Till now only a person has died, while a total of 61 inmates are undergoing treatment at various hospitals and 49 have already recovered,” said Sapkota.
According to Sapkota, the rise in cases has increased fear among prisoners since if one person is infected in a prison, that person could easily infect many others as prisons are overcrowded.
On Sunday, during a virtual meeting of the State Affairs and Good Governance Committee of the House of representatives, in which Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa and Director General of Department of Prison Management Drona Pokharel were present, all the lawmakers urged the government to release prisoners who have completed 50 per cent of their term in view of the rising number of cases in prisons.
Pokhrel was quick to remind the lawmakers that their proposal was not possible to implement with the existing legal provision.
According to data provided by the Department of Prison Management, a total of 24,163 people are currently serving time in 74 prisons. Out of which, 14,027 are convicted criminals while the remaining 10,136 are awaiting trial.
“Prisons in Nepal can only hold about 16,000 detainees. The numbers are far higher, which has made prisons more risky of transmission,” Sapkota of the department said.
The World Health Organisation has also warned that prisons around the world can expect “huge mortality rates” from Covid-19 unless they take immediate action, including screening for the disease. The global health body warned of potential widespread infection in prisons, and has released a set of interim guidelines, such as reducing overcrowding and ensuring access to health services, on preparedness, prevention and control of Covid-19 in prisons and other places of detention.
Efforts to control the virus in the wider community will prove unsuccessful unless strict measures, such as adequate testing and increased hygiene procedures, are taken in all places of detention, particularly in overcrowded prisons, according to the WHO.
Sapkota claimed that they have been taking precautions from the beginning like the ban on visitors for over four months now.
“Some prisons have also built quarantine and isolation facilities,” said Sapkota, the information officer.
However, according to the central jail jailor Sapkota, the temporary isolation they have made is already full and they can not accommodate more prisoners there.
“We have requested the Kathmandu district court not to send any more prisoners here given our situation,” he said.