More than 10.2 million people worldwide are held in prisons. A prison is a state of confinement and captivity for the law breakers who indulge in heinous crimes. While the lack of awareness about the health of prisoners is a major human rights concern, the need to manage illness in jails as part of a bigger public health agenda and as part of primary healthcare is a concept that has yet to catch on in India. People believe that prisoners are sent to prison as punishment, and not for punishment. This implies that the loss of an individual’s right to liberty is enforced by containment in a closed environment. Thus keeping the individual in the custody of the state, should not, however, have a deleterious effect on him. But this is, unfortunately, the case to some degree or another in many of the world’s prisons. Is it possible then to define what is healthy environment in a prison?
Prisoners have unalienable rights conferred upon them by international treaties and covenants, they have a right to health care, and most certainly have a right not to contract diseases in prison. Prison jurisprudence recognizes that prisoners should not lose all their rights because of imprisonment. Yet, there is a loss of rights within custodial institutions, which continue to occur. Public health policies are meant to ensure the best possible living conditions for all members of society, so that everyone can be healthy. Prisoners are often forgotten in this equation. They are in constant contact with all kinds of people who come in and out of prison every day. This constant movement in and out of prison makes it all the more important to control any contagious disease within the prison so that it does not spread into the outside community.
On the one hand, we are witnessing widespread community transmission of covid 19, while on the other, there are legitimate concerns over transmission within prisons. The outbreak of any infectious disease poses a higher rate of threat in prisons. Due to the vulnerability and spatial restrictions, inmates find it challenging to distance themselves physically. Moreover, the poor ventilation and condition of prisons only add to the menace. As India is a signatory to ICCPR, ( International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) the Indian Government must take adequate steps in preventing the spread of covid 19 in prisons. Sufficient space, nutrition and drinking water, access to sanitary items and decent sanitary facilities as well as proper ventilation in accommodation and working areas, are not a given in many prisons. The pandemic has vastly impacted women inmates as they are most affected due to the lack of sanitation and hygiene. Especially since they’d require medical facilities for reproduction, menstrual, pregnancy, etc., in this case, states should take extra precautions and decongest the jails
In India, overcrowding has aggravated the problem of hygiene. In many jails, conditions are appalling. At the tehsil level jails, even rudimentary conveniences are not provided. Prisoners in India are not even tested for specific infectious diseases, although all prisoners undergo a medical examination when they begin serving their sentence. No studies of the prevalence of viral infections among prison inmates have been done at a national level. India’s prison manuals provide for
segregation of prisoners suspected of having contagious diseases. A few jails have established informal contacts with medical and social organizations for counselling of inmates to prevent the spread of infections.
Risky lifestyles can lead to the transmission of diseases from one prisoner to other prisoners, and pose a serious public health risk if unchecked. Contracting any disease in prison is not part of a prisoners sentence. This fact becomes even more significant when the disease is potentially fatal, as is the case with HIV/AIDS.
In prisons, the human environment is often one of violence and high-risk lifestyles, either engaged in voluntarily by those prisoners with positions of power, or forced upon the weaker prisoners. Prisoners have a right to live in conditions where their individual safety is guaranteed. It is paramount for the prison administration to have a thorough knowledge of how HIV is likely to be transmitted in a given prison.
Both prison reform and penal reform are crucial elements if the many problems affecting the Indian prisons are to be resolved. Diminishing the overall prison population will allow improvements of the physical and working conditions of the prisons, and help to ensure the security of all individuals in custody. Obviously, financial resources will have to be allotted to the prison systems as well. One effective way to curb the rise in prison populations would be to offer alternatives to imprisonment for non-violent and civil offenders.
I have always been against Glorifying Over Work and therefore, in the year 2021, I have decided to launch this campaign “Balancing Life”and talk about this wrong practice, that we have been following since last few years. I will be talking to and interviewing around 1 lakh people in the coming 2021 and publish their interview regarding their opinion on glamourising Over Work.
If you are interested in participating in the same, do let me know.
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