Just One Psychiatrist For All Prisoners With Mental Illnesses; Not Sustainable: Orissa High Court Expresses Concern On Prison Conditions

Update: 2022-05-24 12:45 GMT

The Orissa High Court has expressed deep concerns on the issue of the mental health of prisoners. On knowing that there exists only one psychiatrist to attend all prisoners in the state with mental illness, a Division Bench of Chief Justice S. Muralidhar and Justice R.K. Patnaik noted,

"This situation is unsustainable considering that it is physically impossible for just one psychiatrist to attend to all prisoners with mental illnesses."

The development comes in an ongoing case in which the High Court had previously directed the Director-General, Prisons, to ensure food, hygiene, and health facilities in all the jails/sub-jails of the State. It had also directed all the District Legal Services Authorities (DLSAs) to inspect the above-noted basic amenities in all the prisons and sub-jails of Odisha.

In an earlier order, the District Magistrates were directed to visit the jails using the prison inspection format prepared by Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, New Delhi (CHRI). Based on the reports of these visits, the OSLSA submitted that there are at least 286 prisoners with mental illnesses in the various jails and sub-jails. The DG Prisons anticipates that this number may be even higher and around 500 prisoners. The Court expressed deep concern on the submission that there is just one psychiatrist who caters to the needs of all prisoners in the State.

Amicus suggested that the OSLSA arrange the visit for psychiatrists to each jail where there are prisoners with mental illness to assess their present condition and the measures required to alleviate their distress. The Member Secretary, OSLSA, undertook to arrange for such a visit by a specialist psychiatrist.

The court directed that these visits be made from both Public and Private Health Facilities at the expense of OSLSA. After that, there will be a follow-up on the individual assessment report by filing appropriate applications to the Court on behalf of the prisoners. The OSLSA will then follow up on such individual assessment reports by filing relevant applications before the Courts on behalf of the prisoners enclosing such assessments and seeking remedy, particularly for interim or regular bail. Each such prisoner with mental illness will be assigned with an individual lawyer from the panel of the OSLSA.

The Court also touched on the issues of overcrowding, Prison Development Board, segregation of prisoners, and other concerns.

On Overcrowding

There are two sub-jails in the state - Balliguda and Jajpur. The Amicus Guatam Misra informed that the population is more than 100% of the carrying capacity in these sub-jails. The DG Prisons suggested a temporary solution of shifting the prisoners to neighboring jails. He also undertook to re-examine the earlier suggestion to make arrangements for the prisoners' accommodation in other state-owned buildings till the capacity of the prisons is increased. 

A concern was raised before the Court, stating that when applications are filed for shifting an inmate from one Jail to another, they face resistance. The Court noted that given the overcrowding problem is 'serious and real,' such applications must be adequately considered, considering the severe problems inmates face due to overcrowding.

Other than the two sub-jails, there are four other jails where the prison population is between 50 to 100% above the carrying capacity of those jails even today. In the other fifteen jails, there is 20%-50% overpopulation. The DG Prisons ultimately acknowledged the issues assuring that they would be dealt with with the 'highest attention.'

On Prisoner's Panchayat Council

Rule 802 of the Odisha Model Jail Manual, 2020 provides for the constitution of the Prisoners' Panchayat Council (PPC). The aim is to address many problems inmates face within jails, which can then be brought to the notice of the jail administration for remedial action.

The Court emphasized that given it is a statutory requirement, it has to be compiled both in letter and spirit. It ordered that an update be given on the constitution of such PPCs in all jails on the next day of the hearing.

On Prison Development Board (PDB)

The Court directed the PDB to take up the issue of the budgetary allocations per prisoner, which requires revision among the other issues, including infrastructure, overcrowding, medical facilities, skill development of the prison inmates, etc. It sought to produce the deliberations of the meeting of the PDB on the next date. Information about prisoners' cases

On Information about prisoner cases 

The DGP Prisons informed that he had observed an e-kiosk in 20 jails around Orissa. He also plans to visit the jails in other States to ascertain the best practice in this area and ensure that those are made available in the prisons in Odisha. The Court remarked,

"Basically, a prisoner must have easy and ready access to the latest updated information regarding his own case as well as orders of the concerned Court in his case."

Vacant Posts of Medical Staff

The post of 3 psychiatrists is lying vacant, and 31 sanctioned posts of Medical Officers are also still empty. The DG Prisons has requested the State Government regarding the vacancies. The Court directed the Home Department and the Health and Family Welfare Department, Government of Odisha, to immediately act upon the above requests of the D.G., Prisons and expedite filling up the vacant posts of Medical Officers and Psychiatrists.

DGP Prisons stated that although directions have been issued to increase the frequency of the visits by the Medical personnel to the jails. However, it could not happen as directed. The Court directed the concerned ministries to ensure that the instructions were strictly carried out.

It fixed the responsibility of the Chief District Medical Officer (CDMO) in each of the districts in this regard.

On Segregation of Different Categories of Prisoners

Concern was expressed that in several jails, there is no physical segregation between (a) under-trials and convicts (in six jails); (b) young offenders (18 to 21years) and adult offenders; and (c) there are no separate enclosures for women prisoners in the District Jail in Bhawanipatna.  and even the report from the visit of the DLSA to  The authorities ensured that steps are being taken on all these counts and they will be soon addressed.

On Duty Lawyers

Earlier, the Court had directed to attach duty lawyers to every Police Station. The directions issued by the Supreme Court in Arnesh Kumar v. the State of Bihar (2014) 8 SCC 273 have to be followed in letter and spirit. As per the information by OSLSA, in 418 Police Stations in Odisha, the Duty-Lawyer system has already been implemented. The Court directed that the names and the mobile numbers of the Duty-Lawyers are stated to be displayed on boards in a prominent place in each of these Police Stations.

Moreover, the Duty-Lawyers will be given an orientation through the DLSAs, emphasizing the need to ensure compliance with the directions issued in the Arnesh Kumar case. "The orientation will also be for effective interaction with the persons brought into Police Stations and proper advice about their options," the Court added.

OSLSA Secretary also stated that the efforts would be made to earmark some space in every jail and sub-jail for library books and reading materials to be kept for prisoners.

Compliance To Sections 41-A to 41-D, CrPC:

Amicus pointed out that despite the necessary directions being issued by Court, the Police authorities are not complying with the directions given by the top court in Joginder Kumar v. State of U.P. and the subsequent amendments by which Sections 41-A to 41-D in the Cr.P.C. The Court reiterated that the Police must publish information of persons arrested on its website every month.

The Court also modified its earlier order and directed that the Member Secretary, OSLSA will, facilitate the release of prisoners who were unable to be released on bail despite being granted bail on account of their inability to furnish bail bonds by filing applications before the Court of Sessions or the High Court under Section 440 (2) of the Cr.P.C. for modifying the conditions. It remarked,

"The terms of both the Judgments of the Supreme Court as well as the guidelines issued by the NALSA in this regard."

The D.G. Prisons suggested that  DLSAs, who organize the visits by Panel Counsel or themselves visit the prisons should compile a list of Under Trial Prisoners (UTPs), who may be informed sick or aged or in need of urgent medical attention, including pregnant women, and on that basis, advise moving the Court for bail on medical grounds.

The Court noted that this is to be acted upon by the Secretary, OSLSA, who will instruct the DLSAs accordingly.

Case Title: Krushna Prasad Sahoo v. State of Orissa & Ors.

Citation : 2022 LiveLaw (Ori) 82

Case No.: W.P.(C) No. 6610 of 2006

Click Here To Download The Order

Read The Order


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