• Shivangi Shikar


Updated: May 10, 2020

1. Indian prisons house more than 4,66,084 prisoners (PSI 2018).

2. “The sanitation facilities in prisons are horrible”. The Prison Statistics India (PSI) report revealed that 1559 prisoners died of illness in 2018 (PSI 2018 pg. 185).

3. PSI also revealed that only 4% of total prison expenditure is on medical needs.

4. “Most of the doctors are under-trained medical officers”. There are resident doctors in central prisons but not in sub jails located outside cities.

5. PSI data show that in 2018, there are only 1,914 medical personnel posted in Indian jails out of 3,220 total posts. This indicates 40% shortage of medical personnel in Indian prisons.

6. In Indian jails, there is 1 medical personnel for 243 inmates. Jharkhand is the worst with one medical personnel for 1,375 inmates.

7. Of the total expenditure of Rs 1,776 crore on prison inmates in 2018-2019, 4% i.e. Rs 76 crore was spent on medical needs. 42% i.e. Rs 751 crore was spent on “Others” which “may include expenses incurred on sanitation, hygiene, the transport facilities for movement of prisoners during remand, trials, transfer and hospital”.

8. As per Prison Statistics 2018, as on 31 December 2018, there were 61,621 inmates who were above 50 years in prisons across the country. This demographic is most vulnerable to COVID-19 infection.

Current Update

1. On March 16, 2020, Suo Motu Writ Petition (Civil) was taken up by the Supreme Court of India. The quorum consisted of Chief Justice Of India (CJI) Sharad Arvind Bobde and Justice L. Nageswara Rao.

2. Order of the Supreme Court:

(a) Indian prisons are overcrowded making it difficult for the prisoners to maintain social distancing.

(b) There are 1,339 prisons in India. 4, 66,084 inmates inhabit such prisons.

(c) According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), Prison Statistics of India (PSI) 2018, this is 117.6% more than their authorised capacity.

(d) Prison overcrowding is especially severe in some individual states and union territories, especially Uttar Pradesh, where the number of prisoners exceeds jail capacity by 176.5%.

(e) The Supreme Court of India noted “a high risk of transmission of Covid-19 to prison inmates” as prisoners, prison staff, families of prisoners and lawyers are entering and leaving jails frequently.

(f) If prisoners are tested positive for the virus, immediate measures have to be taken for their quarantining and medical treatment.

(g) SC also directed the States and Union Territories to submit written replies on steps being taken to prevent the pandemic among prisoners and juveniles.

(h) On March 23, 2020, SC suggested that prisoners convicted of or charged with offences involving jail terms of seven years or less could be considered for parole or interim bail.

(i) This direction from the high-powered committee is not applicable to under-trials who are charged with serious economic offences, bank scams and offences that come under special Acts such as MCOCA, MPID, NDPS and UAPA.

3. Tihar Jail on March 23, 2020 announced plans to release on parole or interim bail some 3000 inmates who are not “hardened criminals”. An isolation ward has been set up in Tihar Jail, Delhi. All the 17,500 inmates have been checked for COVID-19.The new inmates will be screened and put in different wards for 3 days.

4. On March 23, 2020, Delhi Government in response to a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) told the Delhi High Court that “it will amend rules to enable prisoners who had served a year of their sentence and under trials who had been in jail for three months to avail of parole or furlough (leave of absence), in cases of specific offences”.

5. The Maharashtra Government has proposed to release over 11,000 under trial prisoners from 60 prisons across the state. It has made COVID-19 tests mandatory for all the new inmates. A High Powered Committee has been set up by the Government of Maharashtra to deal with the issue as per the orders of the Supreme Court in the Suo Moto Writ Petition (Civil) No 1 of 2020.

6. Arthur Road Jail, Mumbai, which has a capacity of 800 houses 2800 as of now. It has set up 20 isolation cells for prisoners with COVID-19 symptoms. According to a Pune Mirror report (date), 500 inmates would be released from the Yerawada Central Prison in order to lessen the challenge of maintaining social distancing among the inmates.

7. Times of India on March 24, 2020, reported that 20 prisoners in Uttar Pradesh’s Baghpat Jail have been quarantined for showing symptoms of COVID-19.

8. In Kerala prisons, prison officials have educated inmates about the virus. The Director General of Prisons, Kerala, has set up isolation cells within prisons across-Kerala.Those suffering with COVID-19 symptoms such as cold and fever are being moved to these isolation cells.All the new inmates who will be admitted to the prisons in Kerala will be isolated in the isolation cells in the admissions block for 6 days before permitting their entry into the regular prison cells.

9. Prisoners have been making cotton masks for the anti-COVID-19 drive, they have already made more than 80,000 along with 3,000 litres of hand sanitizers and soap.

10. On March 30, 2020, the West Bengal government released 3,076 inmates from 60 correctional homes. 2,059 undertrials have been granted interim bail while 1,017 convicts have been set free on a 3 month parole.

11. Rajasthan and Jharkhand in response to SC told that “they have tried to decongest prisons by transferring prisoners to other, less congested prisons”.

12. Punjab said that “it is identifying places in and around prisons that could be used as temporary prisons in case of an outbreak”.Punjab too has decided to release around 6,000 prisoners from jails to decongest the state’s prisons. On March 27, jails minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa told media persons in Chandigarh that while the convicts would be released on parole for six weeks, the under-trials would also be sent out of jails for the same period of time under bail.

13. Haryana has asked prison authorities to come up with a block-wise timetable relating to food and other services for prevention of overcrowding. The Haryana government has also set up a high level committee to release on parole the convicts who have been sentenced up to seven years and under-trials on bail. A statement issued in Chandigarh by jail minister Ranjit Singh Chautala said priority would be given to inmates over 65 years of age “and are not involved in more than one cases but are not convicted for cases of rape, (under) POSCO Act, NDPS Act or for acid attacks”. It has not yet announced any number of inmates to be released from prisons.

14. Due to the COVID-19 fear, the Tamil Nadu government has released 1,180 inmates from nine central prisons and has reportedly asked them to appear before their respective courts on April 9. Of those released include 58 prisoners from the Madurai Central Prison and 202 from the Coimbatore Central Prison.

15. As per latest reports from Dehradun, the Uttarakhand government will release 855 prisoners on parole from the 11 jails of the state. State cabinet minister and government spokesperson Madan Kaushik told reporters that they would be released for “six months”.

16. Assam has released 41 prisoners from the Tezpur jail on March 28. Mrinmoy Dawka told reporters that 23 of the 41 inmates, “would be kept in isolation under the supervision of health department and the Tezpur Police.”In the Guwahati Jail though, reports said while three medical officials including a doctor have been deployed by the state health officials besides the usual medical staff of the prison, no inmates have been released yet.

17. According to the latest reports from Bhubaneswar, the Odisha government has finalised the names of 1,727 jail inmates out of whom 80 have been released on March 28. A news report by The Hindu said, “The authorities are trying to bring down the number by 2,000.”

18. The Gujarat government too told media persons that it would release around 1,200 prisoners for a period of two months, keeping in mind the coronavirus outbreak.

19. Andhra Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Maharashtra and Ladakh have identified vulnerable groups of prisoners- such as gaed prisoners with respiratory diseases- for special attention.

20. On March 26, 2020, India Today published an article in which the Director General of Prison Anand Kumar said that “Uttar Pradesh prisons have stitched more than 1,24,000 masks in 63 out of 71 jails in the state over the past 10 days. In addition, sanitizers and disinfectants are also being manufactured across the state prisons. For the safety of prisoners, prison premises are being sanitised using disinfectants at regular intervals. Thermal screening of inmates is also being done. Isolation centres and quarantine cells have also been set up for the safety of the prisoners and jail staff.Any prisoner who is suspected of having symptoms associated with COVID-19 will be quarantined for 10 days.In case a further test is required, the person will be referred to the chief medical officer on the advice of prison doctors”.

21. Madhya Pradesh has also announced that it will release 12,000 prisoners as per the Supreme Court order. State director general of jails Sanjay Chaudhary told Times of India on March 28, 2020, “Under emergency parole rules, the government will provide 60-day maximum parole to eligible convicts.”

22. The Jammu and Kashmir government has set up quarantine and isolation facilities in various prisons across the Union Territory to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus disease among jail inmates.J&K Director General of Prisons, V K Singh, said that if a suspect from the new arrivals is found, he is immediately quarantined and kept in isolation by the doctors who always remain present in the jails. “The prisoners are being monitored every day and their body temperature checked by the trained doctors”.The DGP said not only jail inmates but the prison staff is also being monitored and checked for symptoms. “The prison staff is being provided with the thermal scanners while both staff and prisoners are being provided with sanitizers, masks while all jails are being cleaned and sanitized,” he said. The prison authorities have also stopped meetings between family members and inmates as a precautionary measure. “Also, we have stopped guest lectures and experts who would frequent prison for imparting training to prisoners etc,” Singh added.

23. The Karnataka Government has told the Supreme Court that all new prisoners as well as those returning to jails after parole were being kept in separate barracks for 10 days. They were also being subjected to screening for symptoms of cold, cough and fever in order to prevent any chance of spreading coronavirus inside the prisons in Karnataka. All new juveniles, on the other hand, were being mandatorily screened for COVID-19 before their entry to 17 observation homes in Karnataka. Even if their results were negative, they were being kept in a quarantine facility for 14 days as a precautionary measure. Taking all precautions, the Government asked the authorities to ensure personal hygiene protocol as necessary soap, hand wash and sanitisers were being made available in prisons, observation homes and one special homes across Karnataka. Karnataka Government said isolation wards have been created inside all the prisons to ensure that all the inmates who have cold, cough or fever or any other symptom were kept separately and under medical supervision. "All interviews of the inmates by visitors, lawyers, NGOs etc. have been temporarily stopped. However, prisoners are allowed to talk to their families and friends through telephone," it said. Among other steps, the Government said all court appearances of prisoners were being conducted through video conferencing as per direction of the Karnataka High Court. Besides, the prison staff who were on duty were regularly screened for cold, cough and fever and any other symptoms. Those working at the main entrance were given face masks, hand gloves and sanitisers.


  1. IndiaSpend published an article on “COVID -19: Overcrowded Jails to Release Prisoners on Parole, But This May Just Kick the Can” by Chaitanya Mallapur, dated 25th March, 2020.

  2. Contagion of COVID 19 Virus in Prisons, PIL,

  3. “Prison inmates in UP makeover 1.2 lakh masks in 10 days to fight Covid-19” by Nelanshu Shukla, India Today, dated March 26, 2020.

  4. “COVID-19: Here's How Many Prisoners Will Be Temporarily Released From Jail, By State; The Wire, dated March 30, 2020.

  5. COVID-19: Isolation facilities setup in J&K prisons”, Deccan Herald, dated March 22, 2020.

  6. “Coronavirus Outbreak: With 61,621 inmates over 50 years lodged in 1,399 prisons, a huge challenge for India to insulate jails from pandemic; FirstPost, dated March 24, 2020.

  7. New jail inmates to be in separate barracks for 10 days”; Deccan Herald, dated March 28,2020.

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