What is the purpose of Pre trial detention. The overwhelming detention of undertrials during the pandemic resulted in a humanitarian crisis in overcrowded prisons. Despite thousands falling ill and many dying, prison officials battled to prevent mass transmission among inmates and employees. By quarantining “new” admissions, establishing quarantine zones, suspending jail manuals, and restricting visitors, prisons implemented their lockdown policies. There is no restriction on the arrival of more undertrial detainees, and their release rate from prison has reduced since the outbreak.
Lockdown curbs are being used to normalize the destructive impact of the highly contagious Omicron strain in prisons. Prisons have not finished vaccination programs, and conditions have deteriorated as the number of inmates has grown. Court appearances have been halted. Lawyers are unable to meet with their clients in person. Even if families and visitors are immunized and follow Covid guidelines, prison visits have ceased.
According to experts, the widespread incarceration of pre-trial convicts is the primary cause of “overcrowding” in our jails. The state’s punitive policy has not prioritized decriminalization. Instead, it has led to a stunning 31.8 percent increase in the number of undertrial prisoners incarcerated and a 40.1 percent increase in the detention of detainees from 2015 to 2020. (as of December 31, 2020). Rather than being the exception, incarceration is the norm.
The Supreme Court of India declared in Contagion of Covid-19 Virus in Prisons that “the demand of decongestion is a problem touching the health and right to life of both the prison prisoners and the police officials working.” Most HPCs, on the other hand, did not use gender-sensitive classification or classification based on the right to life or health.
Decongestion was considered an administrative issue by the majority of HPCs. One could even argue that the HPC classification influenced bail decisions and limited release categories used by the barely functional undertrial review committees.
During the epidemic, additional dockets were created, most of which were connected to violations of the “lockdown law” under section 188 of the IPC (disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant). There were 29,469 cases filed under this clause in 2019. By 2020, the number of cases had risen to a staggering 6,12,179. Other regulations, such as local laws, were also employed, resulting in 16,43,690 more instances registered in 2020 than in 2019. There has been no amnesty for these crimes, and the misuse of the “epidemic legislation” has not been subjected to judicial scrutiny.
Governments and courts must, without a doubt, take a public health and gender-sensitive approach to the issue of the mass detention of pre-trial detainees. The role of prison watchdogs in bringing accountability to these ominous detention centers must be reinstated. A humanitarian catastrophe has emerged due to the decrease in the rate of release of undertrials from prison and the rise in custodial mortality. In addition, the HPCs’ bureaucratic attitude should be examined.
Rather than paying lip respect to dead letter reform, courts should prioritize convicts’ experiences in “lockdown” prisons. It’s past time to put a stop to the law’s obsession with the cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment of pre-trial detainees. The practice of mass detention of pretrial detainees must be ended. Any society must despise institutionalized apathy to detention’s brutal and inhumane conditions.