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Safeguarding Prisoners' Mental Well-being

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Safeguarding Prisoners' Mental Well-being
By Justice Swarana Kanta Sharma
Posted: 2023-10-19T18:07:00Z

Delhi High Court Issues Vital Guidelines for Safeguarding Prisoners' Mental Well-being


The Delhi High Court has issued a series of directives aimed at safeguarding the mental and emotional well-being of prisoners. The Court's rationale is that while incarceration curtails the right to liberty, it should not impede the fundamental human rights of convicts.

Justice Swarana Kanta Sharma emphasized the need to ensure that individuals leaving correctional facilities are reintegrated into society as law-abiding citizens who have reformed. To accomplish this, the Court called for the acknowledgment and resolution of mental health concerns among inmates, rejecting any notion that this approach is overly idealistic.

In this vein, the Court directed that if a convict exhibits signs of mental health issues through their behavior, the prison administration should promptly notify the in-house psychiatrist.

“Prison Administration including medical officers should be sensitized with regard to identifying and dealing with issues of mental and emotional health of inmates. In case a convict is repeatedly being punished inside the prison, the administration may, in appropriate cases, refer the inmate's case with promptness to the psychiatrist posted in the prison and provide appropriate remedial course of action for the same,” the Court said.

The Court further stipulated that prisoners experiencing mental and emotional health issues should have access to counseling, alternative therapies, and meditation facilities. It called for the development of a standard operating procedure (SOP) outlining the process for providing these therapies and facilities within the prison. The Government of NCT of Delhi is expected to allocate the necessary resources for this purpose.

Furthermore, the Court mandated the presence of a counselor/psychiatrist in all Delhi prisons year-round. This professional should be available to any inmate who recognizes their own emotional or mental health issues, or when such issues are identified by the prison's Superintendent or Warden.

To provide holistic support, the Court directed the Delhi State Legal Services Authority (DSLSA) to implement programs for conducting mental health workshops for convicts in prison. These workshops should be a regular feature to ensure year-round accessibility.

Justice Sharma highlighted the pivotal role of prison officials, such as the Superintendent of Jail and wardens, in identifying prisoners with mental health issues. The Court underscored that imprisonment may restrict liberty but should not infringe on other human rights, especially dignity and mental well-being.

The Court called for a shift from a purely penal policy to a social policy within prison administration. It emphasized the importance of adopting a reformative philosophy, implementing suggested changes, and focusing on prisoners' rehabilitation to achieve lasting transformations.

To ensure compliance with these directives, the Court ordered that a copy of the judgment be provided to various government authorities, including the Director General (Prisons) of the Delhi Government, the Secretary of DSLSA, the Principal Secretary of the Delhi Government's Home Department, and the Secretary of the Delhi Government's Department of Law. These authorities were given two months to submit a compliance report.