One of the hidden costs of an overburdened and under resourced criminal justice system is the unaddressed mental health concerns of the prisoners. While, to a certain extent, the law does provide for taking into consideration the mental health of the accused, in actuality, there is scant attention paid to it. Whether it be deficient mental health treatment and care options in prison, or the chasm between the limited understanding of mental health in criminal law and the realities of the intricate concepts within the umbrella of mental health, or the fallacy of the law and institutions working within the criminal justice system in assuming its knowledge of mental health – there are many gaps that are required to be filled in the field of mental health and the criminal justice system.
To broaden our mental health work beyond the Mental Health Research Project, we will collaborate with mental health professionals to understand the effect of prisons on the mental health of prisoners (whether undertrial or convict), document their needs, and move towards effective legal representation that also ensures appropriate treatment and care facilities for prisoners with mental health concerns, as promised by the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017. This will also necessarily involve work towards formulating appropriate assessments to ensure that persons entering the criminal justice system are properly evaluated vis-à-vis the requirements of criminal law in the various stages of a trial. Through these endeavours we hope to urge the criminal justice system to move away from an overly punitive approach to an effective and humane perspective towards the purposes and goals of the justice system.
Mental Health Research Project
The Mental Health Research Project is an ongoing nationwide study on the mental health of prisoners sentenced to death in India. It is the first of its kind empirical and descriptive study to take a medico-social approach to the mental health of death row prisoners in India. The project was conceived out of the need to collect accurate data on death row prisoners, through an empirical and descriptive study, in order to broaden the current sphere of knowledge on the death penalty.
Through the project we aim to examine the presence of mental illness and intellectual disability among death row prisoners. An important component of the project is undertaking a descriptive analysis of the lived experience of prisoners on death row with a focus on their mental health. We have interviewed approximately 100 death row prisoners and their families, across prisons in Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Kerala and Karnataka.
The specific issue of mental health and death row prisoners in India has been chosen with a view to aid various institutions in the criminal justice system in understanding the complexities of the field of mental health and work towards a nuanced jurisprudence on mental health and death penalty in India.