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Shackled and lost, justice eludes mentally-ill undertrials

Suresh, 55, (name changed), an inmate of the Kannur Central Prison and a schizophrenic patient since April 2000, has been languishing in the forensic ward of the penal institution, for the past 13 years.

Published: 18th October 2013 08:43 AM  |   Last Updated: 18th October 2013 08:43 AM   |  A+A-

Suresh, 55, (name changed), an inmate of the Kannur Central Prison and a schizophrenic patient since April 2000, has been languishing in the forensic ward of the penal institution, for the past 13 years.

Suresh, booked on charges of robbery, is unfit to face trial as per medical reports. But he has already served a period of detention, more than what a trial court would have sentenced him to. The plight of Suresh is not an isolated one. In many cases, undertrial detainees languishing in mental health centres have already exceeded the maximum imprisonment for the offences they have been accused of.

According to the latest Prison Statistics prepared by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), 296 inmates across the jails in the state are suffering from mental illness. Out of them 224 have been convicted and the rest are undertrials. As per the report, inmates with mental illness account for 4.26 per cent of the total 6,947 prisoners lodged in the jails in the state.

“This is a gross violation of human rights and should be addressed soon. Instead of sending these mentally ill persons to rehabilitation centres, they are being admitted to forensic wards in various mental hospitals and wards inside prisons. In reality, they continue to remain in ‘detention’. The condition of the place where these people are currently lodged is worse than that of the prison cells,” said, J Sandhya of Human Rights Law Network. “As per law, a mentally challenged person can be tried by courts only if it is certified that he is fit to stand trial. Due to this, in most of the cases the mentally ill persons have to undergo imprisonment for many years. In some cases inmates suffering from mental ailments have remained in prison for 19 to 24 years,” she said.

Alexander Jacob, DGP, Prisons, told Express that the department is helpless as many such prisoners are suffering from serious ailments. Hence they could not be discharged or are unfit to face trial proceedings as per medical reports. “In almost all cases they are abandoned by their family members hence they are confined to the forensic wards,” Jacob added.

Significantly, the State Human Rights Commission had received 65 complaints in 2012 from the inmates across the state.

The SHRC has disposed of 25 cases, but 40 complaints are still pending.



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