Indian prisons are overcrowded and congested according to the National Crime Records Bureau data released earlier this week.
Prisons in India has been accommodating prisoners more than it's housing capacity for years and the NCRB 2019 prison statistics report shows that the situation is getting terrible day by day.
The prisons in India had a total capacity of accommodating only around 4,03,700 inmates but on 31 December 2019, various Indian prisons registered around 4,78,600 criminals, way more than it's capacity. This has resulted in an increase in the number of inmates recording as high as 118.5% of the housing capacity in the prisons which is the highest since 2010
According to the report, a state-wise study revealed that overcrowded prisons have surged to 21 in 2019 from 18 in 2018 across the nation. The analysis shows that around eleven states have overcrowded prisons for five years in a row.
Delhi prisons are the most crowded ones in the country with around 17,500 inmates in various prisons while the housing capacity is only 10,000 recording an overcrowding rate of 175%. After Delhi, prisons in Uttar Pradesh has recorded a rate of 168% of overcrowding followed by Uttarakhand with a rate of 159%.
However, women prisons across India are less crowded with an occupancy rate of 55.9% while women jails in West Bengal, Bihar and Maharashtra have an occupancy rate of 100%.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, overcrowded jails have become a matter of concern with many prisons reporting positive cases. Since most of the prisoners are above the age of 50, they have a higher risk of contracting the virus and developing serious symptoms.
"It's stupid but it's not surprising, prisons are grossly overcrowded and they urgently need to be de-congested. Prisons are often difficult to manage as it is, but the current circumstances will make management an absolute nightmare," Hindustan Times quoted Neha Sindhal of the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy as saying.
"There's no way for them to be physically far from each other because there's just not enough space. I have spoken to a lot of prisoners and they barely have any space when they are sleeping and are forced to share mattresses," she said.
The continuous movement of prisoners and the process of them getting released and admitted poses a higher risk for the inmates of getting infected with the deadly virus. However, the continuous process of admission, release and presenting prisoners before courts were reported lower this year because of the new rules set by the jail authorities in order to maintain safety. Nearly 69% of prisoners were undertrials in 2019 which has surged in the last four years.
Leah Verghese, Research Manager at Civil Society Group Daksh said, "Prisons by design are not roomy spaces, and when they are crowded the space for each prisoner becomes even less. Releasing undertrials, those who are accused of less serious offences and those above the age of 60 seemed like an obvious solution to the overcrowding problem."
"Every time an undertrial is admitted there is a risk that they will infect other inmates and staff, undertrials and convicts share the same space thus putting everyone's health at risk," she added.