Chandigarh, July 20 (Punjab Mail)- The State Prisons Department has chalked out a three pronged strategy to effectively combat the COVID-19 situation in the prisons across the state. The strategy comprises Prevention, Screening & Identification and Treatment & Mitigation.

A state level monitoring team and district level monitoring teams have already been constituted to monitor the situation and address the problems being faced by the staff as well as prisoners in day-to-day functioning at the ground level.

Divulging details about the preventive steps being taken under the strategy, an official spokesperson said that in compliance with the directions of the Supreme Court, around 11,500 prisoners have been released on parole/interim bail since March, 2020 as per the recommendations made by the high powered committee constituted by the Apex Court. Besides, 6 special jails have been declared (Bathinda, Barnala, Patti, Pathankot, Ludhiana, Women Jail Ludhiana) to admit all new admission prisoners, only after getting tested for Covid. After having been quarantined in Special Jails for 14 days, they are re-tested, and then sent to regular jails in case their report comes to be negative. This novel measure was well appreciated during a Video Conferencing of Heads of Prisons of India organized by Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI).

The spokesperson further said that apart from these, in wake of  maximum COVID cases coming from Ludhiana, District Jail Sangrur has been vacated to further quarantine all the prisoners of Special Jail Ludhiana for 14 days, re-test them for 3rdtime, and then send to regular jails. As part of creating awareness amongst the prisoners, posters and banners depicting causes, symptoms, prevention, screening and treatment have been circulated in jails. Prisons staff and medical officers are being imparted proper training and the premises of jail are regularly disinfected to ensure safety of prisoners.

Adequate equipment/material has been made available to deal with COVID including 50,000 masks made in jails and equivalent number provided by other institutions, NGOs etc. Nearly, 7000 litre of sanitizer and oxy-meters have also been provided to all jails. As many as, 920 body suits have been provided by Khalsa Aid and 50 PPE kits donated by Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO), Chandigarh.

The spokesperson further said that at least 2 masks have been provided to each prisoner and special care is being taken of high-risk prisoners. To keep the further spread of contagion under check, interviews (mulakaats) have been completely suspended and these are now being done through WhatsApp video calling, in addition to eMulakaat through ePrisons software. Detailed instructions have already been issued to all the prison officials to avoid going to places other than their own homes while on leave, and in case of exigencies, they have to inform the head of the jail.

On the aspect of screening and identification, the spokesperson said that all the prisoners are tested before admitting them in any of the Special Jails. Temporary jails have been declared in various buildings/police stations in the state to keep new admission prisoners after getting their samples for testing and till the report of test are received. Likewise, recently the testing of all officials has been made mandatory. As on July 19, as many as 1362 officials have been tested, out of which reports of 564 have been received and 7 found positive and reports of 821 personnel are still pending.

Nearly 70 prisoners have been found positive in jails of Punjab. However, as per results so far, none of the prisoners seem to have contracted COVID inside the jails as their contact could be traced to another new admission prisoner. Random testing of prisoners has already begun in jails since July 19. Resultantly, 5479 prisoners have been tested and reports of 4287 prisoners have come out negative and reports of rest of the prisoners are still awaited.

Highlighting the facet of treatment & mitigation as a part of three-pronged strategy, the spokesperson said that Alternate Isolation Facilities have been put in place across the state. In case, a prisoner is found positive in any jail, he is sent to the local isolation Center. All the prisoners who shared barrack with the affected prisoner are shifted immediately to the concerned Alternate Isolation Facility for monitoring their health and isolate them from rest of the inmates.

These facilities have also been notified as Temporary Jails for this purpose. A Standard Protocol has been devised and circulated in all the jails which is to be followed in case any prisoner/staff is found affected inside the jail, added the spokesperson.