Crowded jails, new inmates raise Covid-19 risksAccording to the Department of Prison Management, 13 inmates have died due to Covid-19 so far and there were 70 active cases in prisons until Sunday.
Although the majority of the prison population in Nepal has already been vaccinated, officials say the addition of new inmates every day in the prisons, most of which are overcrowded, is still a cause for concern amid rising Covid-19 infections.
According to the Department of Prison Management, until June 14 a total of 24,265 prisoners were serving time in 74 prisons across the country. Out of them, 20,446 inmates were inoculated with the first dose while 19,910 were fully vaccinated.
But as the cases are rising again, there are concerns about a possible third wave, which could bring devastation in the already overcrowded prisons.
According to the jailor of the Dillibazar prison, there are over 500 inmates and majority of them are already vaccinated, but as courts send five to ten new inmates to the prison daily, the risk of Covid-19 transmission persists among prisoners.
“When new inmates come, we request the authorities to vaccinate them but as vaccines are hard to come by, we make requests only after the number of unvaccinated inmates reaches to over 30,” said the jailor.
According to the Department of Prison Management, a total of 13 inmates have died due to Covid-19 so far. There are 70 active cases in prisons across the country as of Sunday.
According to Bednidhi Adhikari, the jailor at the Central Jail, they have over 3,200 inmates although the jail’s capacity is only 1,600.
“We are adjusting somehow but the risk of Covid-19 transmission is high in overcrowded conditions,” said Adhikari.
According to Adhikari, to solve the issue, they were having a meeting on Monday with officials to expedite the construction of the Central Jail facility in Nuwakot and complete it within two months.
“The jail in Nuwakot can accommodate over 7,000 prisoners which will be a huge respite to the authorities during the pandemic,” said Adhikari.
Ramchandra Tiwari, spokesperson for Department of Prison Management said they have been coordinating with various authorities to provide necessary services including vaccine and Covid-19 tests to inmates.
“Steps to reduce crowding in prisons are also being taken,” said Tiwari. “Visitors have been banned.”
Similarly, on September 21 last year, the National Human Rights Commission had instructed the government to become sensitive towards protecting the prisoners’ right to live in a safe environment amid growing Covid-19 cases among inmates.
Similarly the Supreme Court had also issued two directives — one in March and another in September — ordering the government to reduce the number of prisoners to mitigate Covid-19 infection risks.
Stating that overcrowded prisons were violating the inmates’ right to health, the court had ordered the authorities to seek alternative ways of penalising those behind bars.
According to Tiwari, they have released several inmates who were held on minor charges.
On the occasion of Republic Day on May 29, President Bidya Devi Bhandari had commuted the sentences of 434 prisoners who were serving their terms in various prisons.
In April last year, the Department of Prison Management had released 409 prisoners, primarily juveniles, amid growing concerns over possible transmission of Covid-19 in overcrowded prisons.