October 18, 2020 2:33:22 a.m.
AT LEAST four inmates have committed suicide in Maharashtra prisons since May this year. The figure, reported over five months, also equates to the number of suicides for the entire year in state prisons, according to India Prison Statistics, 2019.
In the latter case, a 32-year-old convict who died by suicide in Nashik prison was suspected of having swallowed a note found in his abdomen during his autopsy. The note alleged the harassment of five prison officials. The case is currently under police investigation while an internal prison department investigation is also ongoing in the case.
In other cases, according to prison rights experts, the lack of interventions for the mental health of the prison population is a matter of concern.
Enacted three years ago, the Mental Health Care Act of 2017 requires all prison doctors to be trained to provide basic and emergency mental health care. The provisions of the law, say activists, are not yet followed regularly in prisons.
Among the steps suggested by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), in a recent note on mental health and prisons, is the training of prison staff on the identification of early signs of mental illness in prisoners.
What the 2017 legislation says
The Mental Health Act 2017 is the latest legislation with specific provisions to address mental health in prisons. In addition to requiring that all doctors in prison be trained to provide basic and emergency mental health care, it also requires them to submit quarterly reports to the Mental Health Review Board. The law also obliges Council members to visit and inspect prisons. It also requires the government to establish mental health facilities in the medical unit of at least one prison in each state. Activists say most of these provisions are not being enforced.
Sabika Abbas, program officer at CHRI, says that while prison staff are supposed to intervene, they are not equipped to deal with such cases. “There is a lack of understanding and enforcement of these provisions for mental health interventions in prison. They need specialist help from experts, but the public hospitals themselves are overcrowded, the prisons are not receiving adequate attention, ”she said.
In Maharashtra, there are only 73 medical staff against 100 sanctioned posts, while among correctional staff, including psychiatrists and psychologists, the posts are more vacant – 117 of the 187 sanctioned are vacant.
In 2017, a committee set up to recommend prison reforms suggested the appointment of advisers and the organization of weekly OPD clinics, with experts including psychiatric social workers, in prisons. If a circular was then issued by the Directorate of Health Services and was initially followed, it was not maintained.
“It is absolutely necessary to appoint advisers at least in the central prisons where there are risks of overcrowding and other problems. In addition, since mental health services are poor even for the general population, long-term prisoners could also be trained in peer counseling and prison staff can be sensitized ”, Vijay Raghavan, project manager, Prayas, a field action project from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, said. Raghavan was also a member of the prison reform committee. Other factors, including anxiety about trials, being cut off from family and children, especially for women, also lead to a constant deterioration in the mental health of detainees.
“These factors are only taken into account when there is an extreme effect on a person. It was then that the detainee was taken to hospital for psychiatric treatment. For the daily impact caused by the childcare space, no special measures are taken. Simple steps like keeping the inmate incarcerated in a prison in a city close to his family, regular video calls – which weren’t allowed before the lockdown – so that he doesn’t feel abandoned, a good library or the ‘access to recreational activities can go a long way in helping inmates cope with incarceration,’ said Wahid Shaikh, who spent more than nine years as a sub-trial in the train blasts case. Mumbai in 2006 before being acquitted of all charges. Shaikh now advocates prison reforms and prisoners’ rights.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay up to date with the latest headlines
For all the latest news from India, download the Indian Express app.
© The Indian Express (P) Ltd
Note: The content and images used in this article is rewritten and sourced from indianexpress.com