COVID-19: Prisons in Uttar Pradesh are overpopulated and understaffed

Covid-19 India Pandemic

Prisons in Uttar Pradesh housed almost a quarter of India’s total inmate population in 2019.

Delhi: The fear of COVID-19 spread in prisons is forcing Indian prisons to take necessary steps to avoid the formation of potential clusters, given that India’s occupancy rate is about 170 percent. This means that in a space earmarked for 100 inmates, about 170 are residing. Many countries worldwide have released a large number of prisoners fearing the spread of Covid-19. 

Uttar Pradesh’s (UP) prisons have an overall occupancy rate of 167.9 percent, which means that space marked for every 100 inmates is being occupied by about 168 inmates as reported by Prison Statistics of India.  Overcrowding leads to poor hygiene conditions, lack of sleep, sub-human conditions, amongst other things.

For males, the official capacity in 2019 was 57,062 for a population of 92,000 inmates; the occupancy rate was 170.20 percent. For females, the official capacity stood at 3,278 while it housed 4,174 females; the occupancy rate was 127.30 percent. 

Over the past four years (since 2016), there has been a year-on-year increase in the prison capacity for males. This, however, has not led to any significant reduction in the occupancy rate. For females, the capacity has been increased by only 50 inmates in the last four years. In 2019, the occupancy rate for females (127.30 percent) which is the highest in the past four years.

The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data further noted that while more than 7,000 wardens have been sanctioned for work,  only 2,718 wardens have been employed in 2019. UP’s prison workforce notes similar patterns for its entire staff in 2019.  For example, only 58 superintendents have been employed by the authorities, while the sanctioned strength is  90 superintendents.

Looking specifically at the medical staff, in 2019, UP’s prisons had a total medical staff of 201 people; this meant that there were about 500 inmates for every one medical personnel. In 2018, there were only 141 medical workers, i.e. 737 inmates for one medical person. 2016 had more medical staff than 2019 with 203 people. In 2019, UP recorded 383 deaths in prisons due to illnesses.  
Keeping in mind the increasing inmate population, on paper, the workforce strength for all four years has been increasing marginally. However, all four years saw an upward trend for vacancies. In 2016, there were 3,809 vacancies, in 2019, this number increased to 5,583. This means that in 2016 about 63 percent of all sanctioned workforce was employed and in 2019, about 50 percent of the sanctioned workforce was employed.
The overall budget for the prisons in UP saw a slashing by almost a quarter. In 2016, the overall budget was Rs 1,272 crores, this figure came down to Rs 913.1 crores in 2017. Subsequent years have seen marginal rises; the overall budget for 2019 was Rs 1,165.6 crores.
Out of the total expenses incurred on inmates, the majority is spent on food. Since 2016, a steady rise in money allocated for welfare activities is seen. 

The prison administration serves as an important part of the overall criminal justice system of the country. The past few years have seen a continuous rise in the inmate population, which the existing infrastructure has not been able to keep up with. This means that challenges like security and safety, hygiene issues, overcrowding, inadequate infrastructure have been real problems staring at various governments.