184 positive in Mumbai’s Arthur Road jail; social distancing a challenge – mumbai news
How to ensure social distancing in an almost four-acre space, enclosed by 25-ft high walls, which is overcrowded with 2,700 inmates and 120 staff ? This is the question the authorities at the Arthur Road prison in Byculla are struggling to answer amid the Covid-19 outbreak on the premises. So far, 158 inmates and 26 jail staff have tested positive.
The jail, which was upgraded in 1994 to make it a central prison, has a capacity of 800 inmates. The spread came to light only when a 45-year-old prisoner, who had complained of high fever since April 30, suffered a paralytic attack on May 2 and was taken to JJ Hospital. His report, which arrived on May 5, showed that he was infected. The JJ Hospital team then tested 150 inmates and staff, of which 103 – 77 inmates and 26 staff – tested positive. Further testing of 200 more inmates and staff showed 81 more inmates are infected.
The patients were reported in three of the 16-20 barracks, each with an area of 20ftx60ft. “Circle number 3 and 10 have been made quarantine centres to keep positive patients,” said a jail official, adding that the situation looks grim. “It is not possible to maintain social distancing within a barrack which was built in 1926 to accommodate 50 inmates, and now houses 200-250 inmates. We are sanitising the areas regularly,” said a senior jail officer.
The jail authorities, however, said they had envisaged the situation much in advance. Nitin Vayachal, superintendent of Arthur Road prison, who has opted for quarantine at the house provided on the jail premises after his orderly tested positive, had written to all courts in the city to grant bail to inmates as early as March. The superintendent had requested the courts to give regular bail to inmates accused of crimes which are less serious in nature, and temporary bail to inmates accused in heinous crimes. A copy of the two letters, which is available with Hindustan Times, stated the jail authorities will not be able to control an outbreak of Covid-19 on the premises as it is “impossible to maintain social distancing with 2,700 inmates”.
Ahead of the outbreak, a single judge bench of the Bombay high court denied bail to a 43-year-old man, suffering from diabetes, hypertension and high blood pressure, saying that a number of aged inmates are residing in the jail and they are more prone to the virus. The court noted: “The situation no doubt is precarious…If it’s true that more than 100 patients have tested positive in Arthur Road jail, it is for the authorities to arrange for their affairs and to ensure that the inmates are not infected by the virus.” Relief was also not granted to a 66-year-old inmate, who has now tested positive for Covid-19.
The prisoners are panicking. The senior jail officer said the jail is now being run by the deputy superintendent with a staff of 70 jail officials who are put on day and night shift. “It was never easy to handle criminals on jail premises, and in the midst of a pandemic, it becomes tougher,” said the officer, who confirmed that there was clamour from prisoners for release on Friday night, with some threatening of hunger strike. Alarm bells had to be sounded and inmates had to be strictly instructed to get back to their barracks, said the jail officer, adding that extra manpower had to be called in.
What’s the solution? The officer said: “Decongesting is the only way out. At least half the inmates need to go so that social distancing can be practised.”