“Just One Psychiatrist For All Prisoners With Mental Illnesses Is Not Sustainable”: Orissa High Court

The Orissa High Court has raised serious concerns on the problem of the mental health of prisoners, in the case of Krushna Prasad Sahoo v. State of Orissa & Ors. (W.P.(C) No. 6610 of 2006). A Division Bench of Chief Justice S. Muralidhar and Justice R.K. Patnaik noted that provided that there is only one psychiatrist available to treat all state prisoners with mental illnesses, this situation is untenable because it is physically impossible for one psychiatrist to treat all prisoners with mental illnesses.

Brief Facts Of The Case:  The development occurs in a case that is still pending, in which the High Court previously ordered the Director-General of Prisons to ensure that there are food, cleanliness, and medical services available in all State-run prisons and sub-jails. Additionally, it has instructed all District Legal Services Authorities (DLSAs) to examine the aforementioned basic facilities in all of Odisha’s prisons and sub-jails. In a previous ruling, the District Magistrates were instructed to examine the institutions using the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, New Delhi, prepared prison inspection format (CHRI). The OSLSA claimed that at least 286 convicts with mental diseases are held in the various prisons and sub-jails based on the reports of these visits. The director general of prisons (DG Prisons) estimates that there may be as many as 500 prisoners. 

Judgement: The Court expressed grave concern with the claim that there is only one psychiatrist in the State who can meet the needs of all prisoners. Amicus advised that the OSLSA set up psychiatrist visits to each jail where there are prisoners with mental illnesses so that they may assess their current state and the steps needed to make them more comfortable. A specialist psychiatrist’s visit was arranged for by the Member Secretary of OSLSA.

The court ordered that these visits be done at OSLSA’s expense from both public and private health facilities. The individual evaluation report will then be followed up on by the inmates making the necessary petitions to the Court. Following up on such individual assessment reports, the OSLSA will file pertinent petitions before the Courts on behalf of the inmates, enclosing such evaluations and seeking relief, notably for interim or regular bail. A specific attorney from the OSLSA panel will be appointed to each of these mentally ill prisoners. The Court also considered compliance with Sections 41-A to 41-D of the CrPC, vacant posts for medical staff, the Prison Development Board, prisoner segregation, and other matters. The Court also amended its earlier ruling and instructed the Member Secretary of OSLSA to assist in the release of prisoners who were denied release on bail despite being granted bail due to their inability to provide bail bonds by filing applications for modification of the conditions with the Court of Sessions or the High Court in accordance with Section 440 (2) of the Cr.P.C.

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