- Research shows that there is a recent surge of mental health issues in jails in India.
- Experts recommend rights-based legislative changes and their strict implementation to combat the growing crisis.
The Growing Cases
Recent nationwide surveys like the Tata Trusts’ India Justice Report and the Prison Statistics India report reveal the spike in mental health issues in prisons. The causes have been attributed to difficulties posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, like suspension of family visits, more stringent physical and mental healthcare access, poor psychiatric infrastructure, etc. They also reported the lack of recognition of the broad spectrum of mental illness within the Indian legislature and the criminal justice system.
Recent reports, however, have been accused of downplaying the actual number of incarcerated with mental health issues or deaths by suicide, with experts harking back to a 2011 study published by the Indian Journal of Psychiatry that suggested that 23.8% of the 500 surveyed prisoners suffered from psychiatric illness.
While the mental health of Indian prison inmates is covered under the Mental Health Care Act (2017), there is a lack of implementation of existing laws that guarantee rights to prisoners with mental health issues. Experts recommend monitoring prisoners’ mental health conditions and suicidal tendencies through buddy systems, psychological first aid, telemedicine, awareness classes, and mental health workshops.
They also recommend improving the pre-existing prison-related legislation and establishing regulatory bodies that will supervise the implementation of the legal provisions. A more rights-based legal framework in jails will provide inmates suffering from mental illness proper access to better living conditions, medicines, rehabilitation facilities, and mental health establishments.
Vijay Raghavan, a researcher at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, elaborated that “long-term prisoners could also be trained for peer-counseling and prison staff can be sensitized” to address mental health issues in jails across the country.