The Telegraph
Wednesday , May 7 , 2014
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Prisoner murder bares jail worms
No. 3 on list of ‘lunatic’ inmates

Bengal has the third highest number of “lunatic prisoners” in the country but more than half its prisons don’t have a jail doctor to treat even regular inmates, leave aside those with serious mental ailments.

Prison directorate sources said out of 58 jails, only 21 have doctors. The rest has pharmacists doubling up as doctors during emergencies.

Even those that boast a physician on their payroll don’t have the necessary expertise to deal with inmates like Nizamuddin, the mentally unstable prisoner at Presidency Jail who allegedly killed fellow convict Happy Singh alias Harpreet, 37, on Monday morning, prison directorate officials admitted.

The last published report of the National Crime Records Bureau in 2012 states that Bengal has 417 inmates who are mentally ill — third after Odisha and Andhra Pradesh.

The murder of Happy has exposed successive governments’ lethargy towards addressing serious prison issues such as treatment of criminals like Nizamuddin who need regular monitoring under trained eyes.

“Barring a few, including Presidency, Alipore and Dum Dum, there are no observation wards in most of the jails where such inmates may be kept and treated,” said a senior official of the prison directorate.

“Even the efficacy of drugs administered to patients is questionable, though over Rs 10 crore is spent annually on procuring medicines for jails. Medicines find a way out of the jails.”

Preliminary inquiry reveals Nizamuddin was under psychiatric treatment since November 27, 2011, and has since been under medication. On May 2, he was admitted to the jail hospital for treatment of complications.

Next day, he was referred to the Bangur Institute of Psychiatry. On May 4, jail doctor N. Chatterjee discharged him, apparently satisfied that he was responding to medication. Insiders said the mental ward could only house 20 patients.

The very next morning, he killed Happy.

Experts asked two questions after the incident. Was Nizamuddin receiving the right treatment for his mental ailments? Did he undergo regular medical check-ups?

“There is no concept of monitoring mentally ill inmates. Since we don’t have special cells for such prisoners, they are left to stay with other inmates, some of whom are hardened criminals,” admitted an official of Presidency Jail.

Of the 306 mentally ill inmates lodged in Bengal’s jails, 103 men are convicts who would remain in prison for a considerable period of time. There are 199 undertrial prisoners suffering from various mental illnesses. Like Nizamuddin, all of them stay with regular inmates across all the jails and seldom undergo any medical follow-up.

“There should be an observation ward for such patients or criminals. A round of medication should be followed up by regular checks. They should be kept under close observation,” said senior psychiatrist Ranadip Ghosh Roy who once worked with Dum Dum Central Jail. “If such patients are teased by other inmates, they develop complications such as mood swings and psychopathic personality disorder. Hence, regular monitoring is a must.”

Experts dealing with prisoners’ mental health said inmates “bullied” by seniors either lapse into bouts of depression or develop aggression. Since both conditions can lead to suicides or extreme behaviour, it is necessary to have a separate observation or mental ward. Besides, it is mandatory under the mental health act of 1987 to provide treatment by specialist doctors to these patients.

Most jails in Bengal don’t have any observation ward or specialists like psychiatrists.

“We seek help from experts only in special cases. There are no psychiatrists on our rolls,” Haider Aziz Safwi, the minister in-charge of prisons and correctional homes, told Metro. “There is shortage of doctors as well. The sub divisional jails need doctors. We are trying to hire some on contract.”

Contempt plea

Calcutta High Court on Tuesday gave an advocate liberty to move a contempt petition against the state for its failure to provide security to inmates of correctional homes across the state.

The division bench of Chief Justice A.K. Mishra and Justice Joymalya Bagchi told advocate Tapas Bhanja: “You can file a contempt case if you wish.”

Advocate Bhanja on Tuesday moved the division bench with a copy of the day’s The Telegraph and said: “See, my lords, an inmate of Presidency jail has been killed by another inmate. This court had passed an order on June 13 last year asking the state to provide adequate security to the inmates. This order has not been carried put properly.”

“Why should not contempt proceedings be drawn against the state authorities for failing to obey the court’s directive?” he asked.

The division bench replied: “If you wish, you can file a contempt case.”

On June 13 last year, the division bench had issued guidelines for better jail facilities.

Additional reporting by our legal reporter