In fact, the DOPM wrote a letter to the Ministry of Home Affairs stating the need for personal protective equipment (PPE), thermal gun, mask, glove, sanitiser and testing kit in prisons and juvenile correction centers. Hospitals in Nepal are in shortage of PPEs and other protective gear, and it seems that for the overstretched government the prison system has the last priority. Unsanitary living conditions in the prisons make the facilities even more vulnerable.
The Office of Attorney General (OAG) worked on the provisions to reduce the number of prisoners and inmates in juvenile detention centers. Depending on the gravitas of the crime, the concerned authority and the police may release a person from custody. Legally, if the police or adjudicating authority decide it is not necessary to keep a person in detention during the course of an investigation, they may release them on guarantee or bail or recognisance to appear on the given date.
Says advocate Rabindra Bhattarai: “It is possible to reduce the reduce the number of prisoners in Nepal by one-third from 22,000 to about 7,000, this would make prisoner management and budget easier, as well as reduce the risk of a coronavirus spread.”
The Supreme Court responded positively to a move by Attorney General Agni Kharel to release 13 elderly prisoners in Nepal’s jails and sent the file to the Home Ministry, among them the French-Vietnamese serial killer Charles Shobraj. The Court also decided to exercise the power of case diversion in accordance with the Act Relating to Children-2018 so that juvenile delinquents can be released on recognisance to appear when called by the court on the guarantee of their parent/guardian.
The decision to pardon or suspend the jail sentence by the OAG is a win-win situation, legal experts say. It would reduce the load on prison management which would, in turn, minimise the risk of COVID-19. However, many inmates are in the prison because they do not have money to pay for bail, and some are not able to pay the fine.
“It is up to the Home Ministry to make the final decision, but we are sending the list to them,” said the director general of the Jail Administration Department, Pradip Raj Kandel.
However, there are a lot of questions before the elderly, juveniles or those jailed for non-violent crime are released on bail. How will the inmates or their families get the jail money, how with the district court hearing take place in a lockdown?