To minimise Covid risk, Delhi jails to keep video call option for inmates


Although Covid-19 curbs have been lifted across the national capital, Delhi’s three prisons of Mandoli, Rohini and Tihar will continue with the video conferencing facility for prisoners to speak with their relatives, jail officials said, adding that the decision was taken after several prisoners informed them that they preferred the online mode of interaction.

To put this into perspective, hybrid meetings (both online and in-person) are now a thing of the past in almost all sectors. In the backdrop of a decrease in Covid-19 cases, the Delhi Disaster Management Authority(DDMA) has already ordered the reopening of schools. Also, virtual court hearings, a regular feature in lower courts as well as the high court, have made way for in-person hearings.

To be sure, jail officials clarified that this does not mean that in-person meetings will be discontinued. Prisoners will still be eligible to meet their relatives twice a week, which is the current rule.

But across Delhi’s three prisons, the infrastructure for video conferencing facility will increase, officials in the know of the matter said, adding that the prisons department has planned to install more computer terminals in each jail. The department will also put in place a framework for hybrid meetings, which will detail how prisoners will be able to use video conferencing facility along with in-person meetings.

Records from the three jails showed that at least 923 prisoners used the video conferencing facility on Tuesday, while 1,378 met their relatives in person at the prison complex. In February, at least 8,496 prisoners used the video call facility, while 8,470 met relatives in person.

“We realised during the pandemic that video conferencing was a better way for prisoners to stay in touch with their relatives. In fact, during the pandemic, when all physical visits were banned, we feared that a large number of prisoners may slip into depression. But as soon as the video call facility was started, we saw that prisoners actually preferred that mode. Even they did not want their relatives coming to the prison at the risk of infection. The importance of video meetings is a key lesson from the pandemic,” a senior officer at the prisons headquarters said, asking not to be named.

Director general (prisons) Sandeep Goel confirmed that Delhi’s jails will continue with the hybrid mode of meetings between prisoners and relatives. “Video conferencing will be continued for prisoners who wish to opt for that facility. In the future, terminals for video conferencing will also increase,” he said.

However, foreign prisoners are not entitled to use video conferencing facility owing to security reasons, but they will be allowed to make phone calls, jail officials said.

Advocate Pradeep Rana, who regularly interacts with prisoners via video conferencing, said, “The pandemic taught us the advantages of video conferencing. It saves time and money and people do not have to travel long distances to the jails to meet their loved ones. The courts should also continue with video conferencing facilities, if the client and their advocate agree to that. I would request the prisons department to allow headphones to prisoners during video conferencing so that the inmate’s privacy is maintained.”

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