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“Mens Sana in Corpore Sano” i.e. a sound mind in a sound body or the health of one is connected to that of the other “ mentions the book IKIGAI, we often talk about physical fitness and health but miss out on mind-related problems or we say mental health problems which are equally pertinent.  Mental health through really important comes with the stigmatization around it, In India, the National mental health programme has existent since 1982 and was re-strategized in 1996 since then the awareness among the public about mental health has been progressing at an exponential rate and so is the consideration towards it but still there is a section of society who lose out on the benefits of modern medical practices one of those individuals are people held in prisons, with commonwealth human rights initiative(CHRI) reporting that prisoners are twice as likely to die by suicide than the general Indian population. So through this blog, we will be discussing the status of prisoners in Indian prisons, their mental health, laws pertaining to mental health in the country, and what can be done to improve their conditions.


 “Jails and prisons are among the least therapeutic environments in the world,” says Alisa Roth in her book Insane: America’s Criminal Treatment of Mental Illness, which makes it quite obvious that prisoners are more vulnerable to mental health problems than the general population since they spent most of their time in isolation away from their family and friends in a homogeneous environment which leads to the feeling of loneliness, depression, anxiety, PTSD and schizophrenia, Furthermore the unsanitary conditions, poor infrastructure, ignorance of prison authorities, sexual violence, abuse, and negligible social interaction adds more to the problem, despite the landmark cases like  Sunil Batra Etc vs Delhi Administration And Ors. And Ajay Singh v. the State of Maharashtra, And orders like Re –Inhuman conditions in 1382 prisons(2017) there is not much of an improvement in their condition. According to the ‘Prisoners Statistics India ‘ report 2020 released by NCRB, 7,524 prisoners are suffering from mental illness in 2020 which was to 7,394 the previous year. Of the 1,887 inmates who died in prison in 2020, 10% (189) died of unnatural causes with suicide being the major cause(82.5%) the data also showed that the cases of unnatural deaths is highest in 2020 in comparison to the previous three years, the original numbers can be much higher keeping in mind inadequate prison conditions and overcrowding which was also mentioned by the former chief justice of India N.V Ramana on July 16 while attending a meeting conducted by  National legal services authority(NALSA), he mentioned about the figure of 6.1 lakh prisoners in the country’s 1,378 prisons and how in just a matter of day the number jumped from 6.1 lakh to 6.22 lakh prisoners, Also NCRB’s data has been showing the same trend with 30% jump in last two years despite the pandemic de- congestion measures. Several states like Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, and Karnataka have high numbers of mentally ill inmates, with Karnataka in 2020 reporting that 33% of its prisoners suffered from various types of mental disorders.  A study conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS) in collaboration with the government of Karnataka and Karnataka state legal services authority on prisoners kept at central jail, Bangalore also reveals that 79.6% of central jail prisoners suffer from depression or substance use and has significantly increased their consumption of drugs and alcohol with 51.5% addicted to alcohol and 86% suffering from alcohol consumption disorder.


One of the most important pieces of legislation that deals with mental health in general in India is the mental healthcare act, 2017 which also effectively decriminalized section 309 of IPC which is an attempt to commit suicide. Section 103(6) of this act mentions that “The appropriate Government shall set up mental health establishment in the medical wing of at least one prison in each State and Union territory and prisoners with mental illness may ordinarily be referred to and cared for in the said mental health establishment”, similarly section 31(2) talks about “training of all medical officers in public healthcare establishments and in jails to provide basic mental healthcare facilities”. CRPC sections 328,329 and 330 also mention how adjudicating authority must postpone the trial if the accused is determined to be unsound mind, release the person on the surety of safe conduct, release the accused with mental illness on bail and legal entitlement to be treated at the mental healthcare facility. One of the landmark rulings of Accused ’x’ V. State Of Maharashtra by the supreme court in 2019 made the appellate court consider post-conviction mental illness as a mitigating factor in death sentences cases, Another ruling by the supreme court in 2014 in the case Shatrughan Chauhan and Another V. Union Of India and Others also made it clear that mental health check-up of all death row convicts with necessary medical care should be provided.

Recently on September 3, 2022, Supreme Court while hearing a PIL on the abysmal condition of prison and suicide tendency among inmates sought responses from the Centre and state government about the mandated mental health infrastructure mentioned in section 103 of the mental healthcare act, 2017, A similar judgment was given by Kerala high court on august 2021 where the court asked the state government to set up a mental health establishment in at least one prison in the state for the good of prison inmates mental health. Other initiatives taken in order to prevent suicide in jails include the ‘gatekeeper model’ as suggested by NIMHANS which will act as a protective field for the inmates with suicide tendencies by keeping them under medical consideration, which will be helpful if fully implemented in the jails around the country and surely can help with the budding crises of mental health in prison.


‘Right to life’ which is a fundamental right under article 21 of Indian constitution  is available to everyone either its general public or jail inmates, ‘right to life’ also includes ‘right to have good health’ which makes it clear that we can’t put a question mark on the mental health of prisoners, they also has the right to live with dignity and that can’t come on the cost of their mental health which has been ignored for a very longtime now, India’s policy towards them as deciphered from above  has been more of reactive than of proactive which defeats the whole purpose of  punishment system that aims to reform the person so that they can start a new life again but end up coming back depressed and anti social in society which is also not good for society at whole, Not forgetting the fact that most of the prisoners in jails are under trial convicts, they end up spending a lot of time in prison due to stress about case and fear of future these people are at bay for mental health problems, thus make it seem like injustice has been done to them. It can easily be concluded from above that solutions are there but the implementation of acts and initiatives is lacking, so now what is the way forward comes into question. Firstly, implement all the acts and judgments properly and abide by them. Secondly, improving the infrastructure and solving the overcrowding problem in jails across the country. thirdly, special training sessions for social skills and occupational skills can be introduced so prisoners can lead a healthy life even after getting out of jail, most importantly is to end the stigma around ‘mental health both inside and outside the prison as that stops a lot of people from seeking treatment, the other way to this can be to educate people or prison staff about mental health because as the saying goes like “stigmatization can be as dangerous as any virus”.

Author(s) Name: Isha Arora (Symboisis law school, Noida)