Ground Report | New Delhi: How are Indian states faring?; India’s prisons are overcrowded and often unhygienic. With thousands of people (including staff that has contact with the world outside prison walls) in residence, these jails are extremely vulnerable to becoming Covid-19 “super-spreaders”. Thus, states have been trying to decongest prisons and conduct vaccination drives in jails to inoculate as many eligible inmates as possible.
Progress in most big states has been slow. Shortage of vaccines as well as unavailability of Aadhaar cards of inmates have both been major obstacles. Decongesting jails has also proven to be hard, given existence of time-taking procedures for bail and parole.
State-wise progress, vaccination drives in jails
Andhra Pradesh: As of 20th June, 50% of the prisoners in various jails across the state had been vaccinated. Several members of the jail staff have also been vaccinated. Authorities said social distancing amongst inmates is ensured since the jails aren’t overcrowded. Notably, Andhra Pradesh has performed much better than other states in terms of maintaining a low fatality count in prisons in the second wave. The state prisons are also confident of finishing the vaccination drive within the stipulated time.
Arunachal Pradesh: Arunachal Pradesh launched vaccination for frontline workers in February. Jail staff was included in this category of and vaccinated early on. Recently, on 15th June, Longding district organised a vaccination drive where 47 out of 48 under-trial prisoners were inoculated. Reports on inmates’ vaccination from across the state are yet to come in.
Assam: On 19th May, the count of Covid-positive prisoners in Assam was at 233, much lesser than the 3,000 cases during the first wave in 2020. Jail authorites took precautions such as a 14-day quarantine for new inmates. They also followed the High Court’s order to decongest the jail. Till 18th May, 958 prisoners and declared foreigners in jails were inoculated by the state. The prison authorities came up with a mechanism to vaccinate even without documentation like Aadhaar or PAN card.
Bihar: The state currently has around 55,000 prisoners in various jails. Of these, the Aadhaar cards of 20,000 inmates are available with the police. For the rest, authorities are requesting family members of prisoners to provide them. As a last resort, the jail administration can provide ID cards to inmates. Till 8th May, 7,000 inmates above 45 years had been vaccinated in the state.
Chhattisgarh: The state government, in May, declared it will be counting policemen, jail staff and jail inmates (among others) as frontline workers and will vaccinate them on priority. Numbers related to inmates’ vaccination haven’t been in reports yet.
Delhi: By 20th June, only around 8% of Tihar Jail’s total inmates had been inoculated. This number is low for Delhi overall, too, as only 3,738 of 20,000 prisoners have received their jabs. Scarcity of vaccines and unavailability of Aadhaar cards is a problem here as well. Delhi jails hold double their capacity of inmates and are extremely congested.
Goa: Several prisoners, including some foreigners, had already received their first jab as of 15th June. However, Goan jails, including the Colvale central jail, have seen some inmates refusing to take the vaccine. The authorities are holding counselling and awareness sessions to counter the same.
Gujarat: There are little to no reports of vaccination drives in jails of Gujarat.
Haryana: By 7th May, 450 prisoners from 11 jails in Haryana had tested positive for Covid. They were shifted to Rewari jail for isolation. Vaccination drives hadn’t been carried out despite the presence of aged inmates, an anonymous source said.
Himachal Pradesh: A spokesperson of the Health Department of the state, 10th June, informed of the government’s decision to include prisoners of foreign origin as frontline workers. This was to provide vaccination to them on priority basis. Further information regarding the state of inmates’ vaccination is yet to be furnished.
Jharkhand: The state’s largest prison, the Birsa Minda Central Jail, had vaccinated almost all 300 staff members and 900 out of 3,400 inmates as of 8th May. The number of positive cases has been limited to only 4 prisoners. Jharkhand has faced issues in vaccinating inmates without Aadhaar card.
Karnataka: Karnataka has been extremely successful in conducting a vaccination drive in jails. All eligible inmates aged 45 and above have received the first dose while 99% of those aged between 18 and 44 have been inoculated. Only 10 out of 49 jails have active Covid cases.
Kerala: The prisons department in Kerala, in the last week of April, rolled out measures to vaccinate all prisoners by mid-May. The aim was to vaccinate everyone aged above 45 by April and the rest in May. The state had a total of 6,000 prisoners eligible for the vaccine then. Shortage of vaccines prevented authorities from inoculating inmates early on. However, they managed to prevent any major outbreaks despite overcrowded jails.
Madhya Pradesh: The state had 49,000 prisoners in 131 jails, and as of 11th June, 7,100 of them had been inoculated. A high-level committee set the target of vaccinating all inmates by 15th July for the authorities. It had also directed the state to decongest prisons.
Maharashtra: Vaccination in the state’s prisons began 4 months ago. Of the 28,630 under-trials and 5,185 convicts housed in 46 prisons, 5,573 under-trials and 2,017 convicts have been vaccinated. While smaller prisons such as Buldhana, Yavatmal, Washim district prisons, Atapadi, Gadchiroli and Visapur have already vaccinated almost all their inmates, larger ones are lagging behind. The state has also released a few prisoners to decongest jails.
Manipur: There are little to no reports about vaccination drives in jails of Manipur.
Meghalaya: As of 14th June, the state government had inoculated a total of 667 inmates. This number was set to increase with the progression of the vaccination drive.
Mizoram: On 23rd June, 103 new Covid cases were detected in the state prisons. Information about how far the inoculation drive in jails has moved is yet to be reported. Out of a total population of around 13 lakhs, 4.14 lakh people have been vaccinated in the state.
Nagaland: The vaccination drive for prison inmates began on 28th May and concluded on 3rd June. Official sources say it covered 55% of the prisoner population in the state. The decision on holding a 2nd drive will rely on the need for it since the population of inmates keeps fluctuating.
Odisha: In the first week of March, the state government had decided to vaccinate all prisoners above 60 years of age, and all above 45 with comorbidities. At that time, there were around 18,900 inmates in 86 jails. The progress of the vaccination drive since then hasn’t been reported. The jail authorities have been testing all newly arrested/accused before admitting them.
Punjab: As of 8th May, Punjab had 23,502 inmates in lodged 25 jails. Of these, 5,813 over the age of 45 had been vaccinated. Efforts to vaccinate everyone above 18 have been underway since then. Sanitisation of prisons, distribution of masks and installation of oximeters are some measures undertaken by the state government and prison authorities.
Rajasthan: Rajasthan has 145 prisons, inhabited by around 22,000 inmates. By mid-April, 45% of inmates aged 45 and above had been vaccinated. Authorities said the remaining inmates under this category would be covered on priority basis. In addition, arrangement of separate cells for inmates with comorbidities and 14-day isolation for new inmates have been made. Immunity-boosters for inmates and jail staff were also provided.
Sikkim: On 14th June, the medical team from Namchi district hospital inoculated 100 inmates who belonged to the 18-44 age group at the Namchi district prison. There aren’t many reports about total prisoner count or how many have been vaccinated in other prisons in the state.
Tamil Nadu: By 2nd June, Tamil Nadu had vaccinated 30% of convicts housed the state’s prisons. This was done via special camps held in collaboration with local bodies. Prison staff and inmates are actively being made aware of the imprtance of vaccination. Moreover, there are provisions to test and quarantine new inmates before transferring them to the central prison.
Telangana: The state has inoculated almost 99% of its prison staff and prisoners aged above 45. Close to 30% of those who lie in the age group of 18-45 had been vaccinated as of 20th May. The prison authorities are also actively trying to decongest the jails. They have been taking inmates’ temperature regularly and segregating those with symptoms from others.
Tripura: There are little to no reports of vaccination drives in jails of Tripura.
Uttarakhand: The state government told the Uttarakhand High Court that it had vaccinated 2,813 inmates as of 8th June. However, due to lack of vaccines, the inoculation drive was progressing rather slow.
Uttar Pradesh: There are at least 1 lakh prisoners in the jails of UP. As of 21st May, 24,000 of them (above the age of 45) had been inoculated. Moreover, the prison authorities had to release over 10,000 inmates on bail or parole to decongest prisons. This was also done during the first wave, wherein 11,000 prisoners were released on bail on parole. New inmates are being quarantined for 14 days before being transferred into main cells.
West Bengal: The West Bengal government decided to continue vaccinating priority groups rather than providing free vaccinations to all those aged 18-45 (as prescribed under the centre’s universal vaccination programme). The reason behind this action is the lack of vaccines. Jail inmates are amongst the few priority groups identified by the WB government.
Overall, vaccination drives in jails have begun in most Indian states. The progress has been slow in most of them due to lack of vaccines, high population of inmates and technical difficulties arising out of the mandatory requirement of the Aadhaar card for registration. Simultaneous measures such as decongesting of jails, regular testing and quarantining new inmates before moving them into cells has helped prevent a disastrous outbreak. Most jails are coping better than they did during the first wave.