There are no psychiatrists or psychologists to check the mental fitness of inmates lodged in 50 jails across the state, according to the Telangana prison administration.
To add insult to injury, this is what the deputy inspector general of prisons, M Chandrashekhar, had to say when asked about the number of mentally ill inmates –”We don’t have any such data. What is the use of keeping such data when several inmates are released and several others are sent to jails everyday?” On probing further, the jail official said obtaining such data would take two to three days. “If you are in such a dire need to know the numbers why don’t you file an RTI.” he suggested.
Chandrashekhar also reveals that the prison staff admits any convict or undertrial to the Government Mental Hospital at Erragadda if they “find someone has any psychological disorder”. Although, the way they decide on the mental fitness of the inmates is a subject he doesn’t divulge much information about.
The jail officials explained that inmates are kept in separate barracks after their course of recuperation and prescribed medication. This is to ensure that they are not socially ridiculed.
According to the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) data released a couple of weeks ago, of the 14,313 prisoners lodged in 120 jails of the unified Andhra Pradesh state, 409 were mentally ill in 2013. It is no secret that 4,11,992 jails in the country bear the brunt of being orphaned from the system. Away from the eyes of the society, shut in dirty, dingy and overcrowded barracks with access to limited resources that include, food and water, space to sleep and medical care, inmates succumb to frustration and helplessness that culminates into psychological disorders.
According to the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, an international NGO working for prisoner’s rights in the commonwealth countries, every central and district prison should have the services of a qualified psychiatrist, who should be assisted by a psychologist and psychiatry social worker.
Meanwhile, the director-general of state prisons, Vinay Kumar Singh said that the posts for psychologists are lying vacant as they haven’t been able to find suitable candidates. “This is why we have started facilities to provide change in mental set of the inmates. We call guest speakers like psychologists, counsellors, spiritual gurus, professors and others and if anyone needs special attention, one-on-one counselling is also provided,” he says.
Dr Radhika Acharya, a rehabilitation psychologist says that while labelling or mockery adds to depression, anxiety disorder, feeling of guilt and grief, isolation only makes matters worse. “Such people need social validation all the more. Hence, they need to be among people but their psychological problems should be dealt with and here is where the role of psychologists and psychiatrist comes into picture,” she says. The doctor adds that only experts in the field can tell who needs psychological help because even normal people could have personality delinquencies. Further, highlighting that prisons are correctional centres that aim at rehabilitation of offenders rather than punishment, Jeevan Kumar, human rights activists associated with Human Rights Forum says,”Our prisons never focus on the psychological well-being of prisoners. Stuffed in their cells they are not only away from family but are also cut off from human emotions and are deprived of decent life.” The activist adds that in the absence of proper counselling, recreational activities can help, provided they are sustained.
Though it has been more than three and a half decades that Supreme Court jurist, VR Krishna Iyer, said, “Convicts are not by mere reason of the conviction denuded of all the fundamental rights which they otherwise possess,” Telangana prison authorities have a long way to go before they can provide basic mental healthcare to its prisoners.