Coimbatore is one of the shadiest places in India to commit a crime necessitating imprisonment. Spread over 167 acres, the late 19th century Coimbatore Central Prison can house 2,208 inmates at a time. This translates to a ratio of 260 square meters of open space per person (assuming 1 guard for every 6 inmates). Outside the compound walls, Coimbatore city boasts of 2.17 square meters of open space per person. (For comparison sake, Mumbai has about 1 square meter of open space per person). In other words, one is assured a higher quality of life as a prisoner in Coimbatore, as compared to a resident of Coimbatore.
And these metrics make recent news even more difficult to digest. In late March, in response to the Coronavirus pandemic, 136 prisoners were released to decongest the prison. It turns out that many imprisonments are like face to face meetings — essentially unnecessary and avoidable with a little creative effort.
But let us come back to the decongestion. First of all, why would inmates agree to leave? It’s not like they would be allowed to visit extended family members on their release (remember, social distancing, lockdown, etc). In addition, prison administrators ensured “arrangements for hand washing are in place at the entrances of the 10 blocks inside the prison.” As one reads this quote, the mind drifts north to the banks of the Yamuna River, where a stranded migrant labourer told a news reporter yesterday: “Kehte hai safai karo, haath dho baar baar, kahan se dhoyenge.” They say wash your hands again and again, but how do we do this?”
In other words, the fundamentals of life in the Coimbatore Central Prison appear to be very strong: expansive green space, water for washing hands, soap, etc. Not to mention that a semi-open-air jail was opened in early March 2020, featuring a fish pond, honeybee colonies, a rabbit farm, and arable grounds. Commenting on the campus additions, Deputy Inspector General of Police (Prisons), G. Shanmuga Sundaram said, “the open-air jail was introduced for the rehabilitation, well-being, and skill development of inmates.”
If only the Coronavirus could also free these 3 interred aspirations from the Coimbatore Central Prison, along with the other 136 former inmates.