A systematic study of the mental health of prisoners is being taken up in the southern Indian state of Karnataka.
The National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) is conducting the study, the first of its kind in the country.
The Department of Prisons and the Karnataka State Legal Services Authority (KSLSA) will be assisting the prestigious institute in the effort. Governor Rameshwar Thakur launched the project in Bangalore Central Prison on Wednesday.
The findings will be used to sensitise prison staff to the problems of their charge. Hopefully they will lead to better conditions inside the prison.
According to Director and Vice-Chancellor of NIMHANS D. Nagaraja, two per cent of population suffers from serious mental disorders, while about 7 per cent has general mental problems.
And the incidence of such disorders among prisoners is about three times than those who are not incarcerated.
This 18-month project has been divided into three phases, with the first phase assessing the mental health morbidity of prison inmates.
P. Rajini of Bangalore Prison Hospital, who is one among the five psychiatrists involved in the study, said answers to a detailed 40-page questionnaire would be elicited from about 5,000 detenus — including long term under-trials and freshers.
The responses would be studied by the five member investigation team headed by Suresh Bada Math, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, NIMHANS.
In the second phase, the institute is to conduct a series of training programmes for officials of the Central Prisons in Bangalore, Mysore, Dharwad, Belgaum, Bellary, Gulbarga and Bijapur.
In the third phase, NIMHANS will publish its findings and recorded data in a book that could serve as a guide for managing prisons.
Speaking on the occasion, Governor Rameshwar Thakur said though prison inmates underwent a lot of physical and mental stress, they did not receive adequate attention.
There was a pressing need to improve the identification and management of mental disorders at the primary care level, he said.
Chief Justice of the Karnataka High Court Cyriac Joseph, who is also the chief patron of KSLSA, said the authority was proud to be associated with the project that would serve as an example for other States to emulate. The authority had financed the project and had released Rs. 13.72 lakh for the purpose.
He stressed that notwithstanding the restrictions on their movement, the prisoners had the right of access to healthcare as those outside.