Updated: Jul 29, 2020

[Authored by Shailee Mishra, 2nd year B.A. LL.B. (Hons.) student at University of Allahabad.]


On March 16, 2020, the Supreme Court of India observed a high-risk of spreading COVID-19 to prison inmates including prisoners, prison staff members, family members of prisoners, and counsels getting in and out consistently. Since, the Supreme Court of India ordered every State and Union Territories across India to submit the written report of operations taken to avert the spread of coronavirus among prisoners and juveniles. Hence, they were ordered to ensure no delay in shifting sick persons to a nodal institution in case of the possibility of infection.

On March 23, 2020, having regard to the provisions of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, the Supreme Court determines the categories of prisoners who could be discharged to restrict the dissemination of COVID-19. For this, a 3-judge bench comprising of Hon’ble CJI S.A. Bobde, Hon’ble Justice L. Nageswara Rao and Hon’ble Justice Surya Kant, ordered every state and union territory to constitute a High-Powered Committee consisting Chairman of State Legal Service Committee, Director General of Prison, Principal Secretary. It was open for High-Powered Committee to decide who should be released depending upon the nature of the offense. It suggested that prison inmates sentenced or condemned with offenses involving a sentenced term of 7 years or less, with or without fine could be determined for parole[1] or interim bail. The committee was ordered to follow due process of law. In furtherance to this Supreme Court gave more directions relating to the parole to inmates[2]:

  • To develop response plans in consultation with medical professionals.

  • To set up a management team at the state-level for ensuring directives concerning prison and remand homes.

  • Directs to stop the physical presence of the prisoner before the courts. Instead of that, directs to follow the video conferencing system for all the purposes.

  • Directs to ensure that the maximum possible distancing among the inmates of the prison including under trials.

  • Directs to shift ill prisoner to a Nodal Medical Institution if any infection is seen and directs to avoid the delay.

According to a report of Prison Statistics of India (PSI) released by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB)[3], the occupancy rate of jails in India is 117.6% and in states like Uttar Pradesh and Sikkim, the occupancy rate is as high as 176.5% and 157.3% accordingly. So, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India ordered the requisite decision before the situation might worsen in India.

A report by World Prison Brief ranked India in 5th position after the U.S.A., China, Brazil, and Russia in terms of population of the inmates in the jail. The sanitation facilities in jails are grossly inadequate. The PSI Report revealed that in 2018, 1558 Prisoners died due to heart, lung, liver, and kidney-related diseases and 4% of total jail expenditure is on medical needs[4].

According to the report of The Hindu, Covid-19 provoked violence in prisons between prisoners and police at Dum Dum Central Correctional Home in Kolkata when families of the prisoners were not allowed to meet until March 31, 2020.

In this article the author shall discuss the influence of pandemic across various countries’ prisons, so the situation of prison inmates. Accordingly, the author shall highlight some ways the criminal justice system should obtain to avert the spread of the pandemic. Finally, the author shall discuss some measures which the Criminal Justice System should take to reduce the influence of pandemic. 


Many Prisoners have tested positive for Covid-19 across the globe. As we know that prisons and jails are having a large number of people suffering from chronic diseases as well as poor and complicated medical facilities foster Covid-19 and one of the best ways to save and safeguard these people is to mitigate overcrowding. Some countries' jails are already making these alterations:

  • According to the report of Business Insider, announced on 16th March 2020, Iran[5] has discharged 85,000 prisoners on Parole, so the pandemic could not spread much.

  • Los Angeles Times[6], reported that the US with Los Angeles County has reduced the prisoners 6% over 3 weeks in fear of spreading the coronavirus.

  • In Duval County, Florida[7] has dropped 16% of the prison population over about a month.

  • The jail population reduced by "half" in Washington County, Oregon[8].

  • On April 24th, Maricopa County, Arizona[9]  reduced the population of about 30% from an average of 7,500 to 5,306.

  • The Anderson County, Tennessee[10] has dropped the Prison population from 415 to 280, the Sheriff's office reported on April 27th, 2020.

  • In past weeks, New York City[11], has released over 200 prisoners from Rickers Island and would free 175 prisoners before the weekend.

  • The prison population in Hennepin County, Minnesota[12], dropped by 44% following collaborative efforts to increase jail releases.

  • Tihar jail which is India's[13] the largest prison announced to release almost 3000 prison inmates who are not "hardheaded criminals." Maharashtra meanwhile released 5000 inmates, and also made the Covid-19 test obligatory for newcomers. Whereas in Uttar Pradesh's Bhagpat jail 20 prisoners on 24, March 2020 were showing symptoms, hence, made that place fully isolated.

Since prisons and jails are considered as megaphones of communicable diseases[14] because the social distancing is almost impossible at these places and movement from inside and outside is, so common. So local governments, as well as the state government across the globe are taking significant steps to reduce the spread of coronavirus and following collaborative efforts to increase jail releases.


A) If the government wants to save both the justice system and justice-involved people from spreading the virus there are some correctional facilities and supervision:

Release medically unfit and older ones:  As we are well-versed with the fact that prisons and jails are full of chronic illness and complex medical needs, people who are more unsafe to become seriously sick and old people are at higher risk in prisons from getting infected from Covid-19. Freeing these unsafe groups from jails will lessen the need to supply complex medical necessities.

Stop demanding medical co-pays in jails: Charging the sick people to see a doctor discourages from seeking care. These types of policies need to be repealed[15] until the ultimatum of pandemic gets over. So, due to this if sick people will not receive immediate medical care, chances of them spreading in a very restricted place increase.

Lower jails admissions to reduce overcrowding: It is very crucial to lessen the burden of the potential pandemic on local jails. And state controller should never forget that local jails are less furnished to control pandemics than state prisons.

Reduce dispensable parole and probation meetings: People should not spend long hours traveling only for brief meetings with the parole commanders and should allow them to check in by telephone.

Exclude or eliminate unnecessary confinement[16]: The state should stop confining people because of the technical derogation of probation and parole rules. Eliminate these unnecessary confinements would reduce the risk of spreading a virus between facilities and societies.

Reducing unnecessary costs: Eliminating the charges of a phone call and video communications.

There are crucial things that every pandemic plan needs to add on[17]

  • Determination to continue finding ways

  • To lessen the no. of incarcerated people

  • To improve the condition of those who are confined 

  • To recognize the impact of confinement on public health

B) Steps to limit the transmission of the pandemic that the juvenile justice system can take:

  1. By ceasing new admissions to juvenile confinement: Unless youth endangers an imminent and substantial risk to public safety.

  2. Eliminating young people from safe and group care settings: Officials should need to take steps to ensure that these young ones have their basic needs met such as access to safe housing and medical care facilities.

  3. Providing meaningful and appropriate supports and services to a small number of youths like educational programming, unlimited calls, and video callings by the agency officials.

  4. Append requirements that are at the edge with public health recommendations for young ones who are on probation and parole or some kind of community supervision.

  5. a


Pandemic has effectuated everyone globally from rich to poor. It has not discriminated based on race caste, sex, class, gender, etc. During the COVID-19, prisons are one of the reddest areas which require special attention. 

Since the parole board has relaxed some rules and has released guidance of documents reaffirming the need for the principles of saving the public and fairness to remain during the pandemic Covid-19. The parole system remained fair during the pandemic. 

Police officials should reduce the no. of arrests for petty offenses. Jails or prisons should vacate bench warrants. Despite all these fairness and parole board rules prisoners should be aware of the disease, its challenges, risks, and preventive measures.

A number of jurisdictions have taken quick actions to protect the most endangered justice-involved people, reducing the number of arrests and unnecessary admission to prisons, releasing the right people, and providing medical needs. The time is now for officials to put public health punishment. 

[1] Prachi Bhardwaj and Prachi Bhardwaj, 'Coronavirus (COVID-19) | Overcrowding of Prisons Is Serious Concern; Consider Releasing Prisoners on Parole/Bail: SC to States/Uts | SCC Blog' (SCC Blog, 2020), https://www.scconline.com/blog/post/2020/03/23/coronavirus-covid-19-overcrowding-of-prisons-is-serious-concern-consider-releasing-prisoners-on-parole-bail-sc-to-states-uts/.

[2] [COVID-19]: SC Directs States to Set Up Panel to Consider Release of Prisoners on Parole' (Lawstreet.co, 2020), https://lawstreet.co/judiciary/release-of-prisoners-onparole?refuid=NzgzOHw1MC42My4xNjAuMjE3fHNvb2xlZ2FsLmNvbQ%3D%3D.

[3] 'COVID-19: Here's How Many Prisoners Will Be Temporarily Released from Jail, By State' (The Wire, 2020), https://thewire.in/government/covid-19-prisoners-release-jail.

[4] Chaitanya Mallapur and Chaitanya Mallapur, 'COVID-19: Overcrowded Jails to Release Prisoners on Parole, But This May Just Kick the Can' (IndiaSpend, 2020), https://www.indiaspend.com/covid-19-overcrowded-jails-to-release-prisoners-on-parole-but-this-may-just-kick-the-can/.

[5] 'Iran Has Released 85,000 Prisoners in An Emergency Bid to Stop the Spread of The Coronavirus' (Business Insider, 2020), https://www.businessinsider.in/politics/news/iran-has-released-85000-prisoners-in-an-emergency-bid-to-stop-the-spread-of-the-coronavirus/articleshow/74674415.cms.

[6] 'California Releases More Jail Inmates Amid Coronavirus Crisis' (Los Angeles Times, 2020), https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2020-03-20/california-releases-more-jail-inmates-amid-coronavirus-crisis.

[7] 'Hundreds of Inmates Released from Orange County Jail Amid COVID-19' (FOX 35 Orlando, 2020), https://www.fox35orlando.com/news/hundreds-of-inmates-released-from-orange-county-jail-amid-covid-19.



[10] https://www.oakridger.com/news/20200427/jail-fewer-inmates-no-virus-detected.

[11] 'NYC Jail Population Lowest Since World War II After Coronavirus Releases' (New York Post, 2020), https://nypost.com/2020/03/26/nyc-jail-population-lowest-since-world-war-ii-after-coronavirus-releases/.

[12] Analise Pruni, Hennepin County Jail Population Cut By 44% In Light Of COVID-19 (Spokesman-recorder.com, 2020), https://spokesman-recorder.com/2020/04/22/hennepin-county-jail-population-cut-by-44-in-light-of-covid-19/.

[13] 'Twitter' (Twitter.com, 2020) <https://twitter.com/ANI/status/1242108319839313923?s=20.

[14] 'Why Jails Are Key To 'Flattening The Curve' Of Coronavirus' (The Appeal, 2020), https://theappeal.org/jails-coronavirus-covid-19-pandemic-flattening-curve/?fbclid=IwAR1K9cf0ardpNwIfxtzjLlegqusQ4l_ZpY1MEuagMfcnqsttzMi5aGlKnCQ.

[15] Wanda Bertram, 'Momentum Is Building To End Medical Co-Pays In Prisons And Jails' (Prisonpolicy.org, 2020) <https://www.prisonpolicy.org/blog/2019/08/08/copays-update/.

[16](Unodc.org,2020), https://www.unodc.org/pdf/criminal_justice/Handbook_on_Prisoners_with_Special_Needs.pdf.


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