Mental Health Programme for Jail Inmates in Punjab

Mental Health Programme for Jail Inmates in Punjab

Mental Health Programme for Jail Inmates in Punjab

On November 9, 2023, the Health and Family Welfare Minister of Punjab, Mr. Balbir Singh, launched a mental health intervention programme for inmates and detainees in the state’s prisons. The announcement of the programme took place in Chandigarh during a state-level function.

The minister informed the attendees that currently, the initiative will provide screening, counselling, and referral services to prisoners in four jails of Gurdaspur, Patiala, Ludhiana, and Amritsar. He also assured that the programme shall be soon implemented across all the jails in the state. Presently, counsellors have been recruited in the aforementioned centres for the inmates, with the support of ‘World Health Partners’. In his announcement, Minister Balbir Singh commented on the suicide epidemic in the jails of Punjab. He emphasised that many prisoners face severe mental health issues, which result in suicide.

The minister also talked about the problem of substance abuse and addiction in the state. In his speech, he pointed out that out of the 25,000 prisoners in Punjab, approximately 14,000 have been convicted under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act. He further stated that they are not all smugglers, and a large number of them are in jail because of drug addiction. Mr Singh mentioned how it would be a lot more beneficial to such convicts to be sent to de-addiction and rehabilitation centres instead of prisons. It could be mutually beneficial, as their mental health would improve and the problem of overcrowding of prisons would also be significantly reduced. Cabinet Minister Balbir Singh also said that this initiative showcases the state’s commitment to the implementation of the Mental Health Care Act of 2017.

Suicide in Indian Prisons

In 2018, the Supreme Court appointed a three-member panel headed by Justice Amitava Roy to look at the issues in Indian jails on aspects such as custodial deaths, violence, and overcrowding in prisons.

In late 2022, the committee submitted an extensive report on the matters concerning Indian prisons and gave recommendations for reforms. This report consisted of a chapter titled ‘Unnatural Deaths in Prisons’ which revealed the alarmingly bad state of mental health in Indian prisons. The report data showed that out of 817 unnatural deaths in jails in the last five years, 660 were suicides. Although Uttar Pradesh recorded the highest number of prison suicides (101), Punjab followed second with 63 suicides.

The report stated that there is a dire need for reform in the infrastructure of jails. It said that there is a need to identify potential hanging points within the existing designs of jails. It also recommended building suicide-resistant cells. Additionally, it highlighted that there is also a need to train prison officials and staff to recognise warning signs of suicide amongst inmates. They must devise safeguarding methods to protect their lives. The committee also said that there should be a suicide prevention program, with facilities for counselling and medical treatment of prisoners.

Mental Healthcare Act, 2017

In India, the Mental Healthcare Act was passed in April 2017 and came into effect in 2018. Previously, attempted suicide was categorised as a punishable offence under Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code. This act effectively decriminalised suicide. It aims to provide mental healthcare and services for persons with mental illness. It also protects, promotes and fulfils the rights of such persons. A part of the Act specifically talks about the mental health of prison inmates.

It states that any prisoner with mental illness must be admitted to the psychiatric ward in the medical wing of the prison. In case there is no such provision, they must be admitted into any suitable mental health establishment, where they must receive treatment. It also states that the appropriate Government should set up a mental health establishment in the medical wing of at least one prison in each State and Union territory. Prisoners with mental illness must be detained and cared for only in such establishments. The initiative of the Punjab Government is a step forward in implementing the directives of the Mental Healthcare Act of 2017.

Suicide helpline: 9152987821 (icall)

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