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Prison, Prisoners And Psychology: Role Of Psychiatrist, Psychoanalysts And Social Workers In Prison In India

When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment; he needs help.

The living conditions of the prisoners and under-trials incarcerated in Indian prisons leave much to be desired. The sheer apathy and indifference shown to them by the society, the State authorities and in some cases even their families, tends to severely restrict the chances of these persons getting over their past and becoming productive citizens.

This article is keen research and personal experiences of author visits at jail esp. TIHAR JAIL during internship at NALSA, New Delhi and also deals with the role of Psychology and crime. This research is an outcome of some personal views, experience and opinion on forensic psychology as an important element for rehabilitation.

Psychology seeks to explain the laws of mind. Science uses methods like observation, experiment makes comparison and classification to investigate and collect data. Psychology uses both the scientific procedures of observation and experimentation. Psychology is the systematic study of human behavior under controlled conditions. An experimental method is used for the purpose of investigation and inquiry which deals with three essential characteristics of science such as accuracy, certainty, and generality.

In one of the most memorable and critically acclaimed Hindi movies of the 1950s, Do Aankhen Baara Haath, an idealistic jailor reforms a group of hardened criminals by making them work on a farm. The film was based on a true experiment, initiated in south Maharashtra by the ruler of Aundh, one of the smallest princely states in pre-Independence India. Many other remarkable attempts to reform criminal justice institutions (CJIs) have been made in India.

But these experiments cover a very small number of people confined in CJIs. CJIs are one of the legacies of colonial rule that have remained largely unchanged since Independence. Most affected by this lack of progress are people from poor and under-privileged backgrounds who form the majority of inmates in prisons. A clear indicator of the socio-economic profile of prisoners in India is the fact that around 80% of them are illiterate or semi-literate. The majority of them are not even 'criminals' in the true sense of the word — they are 'undertrials'.

A minor role of prisons is housing people awaiting trial and kept in judicial custody till the completion of their case in court, or till they get bail. Many undertrials remain in jail for long periods as they are unable to produce suitable sureties, or they have been denied bail due to the grave nature of the crime they have allegedly committed. India's undertrial population has fast overtaken the convict population in prisons due to a number of reasons such as:
  1. increasing number of arrests
  2. dependence on the courts to secure bail
  3. trial delays, and
  4. a plethora of legislation wherein violation of the law leads to arrest and imprisonment rather than alternative modes of punishment.

The Indian prison system is also crushed under the weight of those arrested for petty offences, including ticketless travel, loitering, hawking in public places, committing petty theft, and a host of other crimes that can be linked to lack of employment options and social security benefits.

Psychology And Crime

Psychology is a social science, as science seeks to explain the phenomenon within its scope. Explanation is the ultimate aim of science. Psychology deals with mental processes and activities of the organism in relation to his environment. It deals with experience and behavior. Psychology seeks to explain the laws of mind.

Science uses methods like observation, experiment makes comparison and classification to investigate and collect data. Psychology uses both the scientific procedures of observation and experimentation. Psychology is the systematic study of human behavior under controlled conditions. An experimental method is used for the purpose of investigation and inquiry which deals with three essential characteristics of science such as accuracy, certainty, and generality.

The term psychology is derived from two Greek words psyche and logus which means soul and science respectively. Thus the literal meaning of psychology is the science of the soul. William Wundt defined psychology as the science of conscious experience.

Crime has existed since the beginning of human race. With technological advancement, the concept of crime and methods adopted by criminals in the commission of a crime has undergone a drastic change. On one hand, there are intelligent criminals who exploit science to their advantage, on the other hand, the investigator is no longer able to rely on the age-old art of interrogation to detect crime. In this context, forensic science has found its existence.

Psychology And Prisons

Prisoners live their life behind bars and this takes them away from their families, marriages, heterosexual contact, jobs, friends, communities, and religious activities and puts them in an extremely bad moral environment for years at a time. Social organization in prison revolves around vicious prison gangs and no good role models in jails to be followed. Many prisoners are beaten, raped, brutalized or made to live in fear.

Overcrowding makes environment worse for prisoners. As per data of 2006 by National Human Rights Commission, prisons of India having a total capacity of 248,439 while actual number of prisoners living in prisons was 358,177. Most of the prisons have limited sunlight and fresh air and full of bad odors and poor health services. Bland and unappealing food, clothing and extremely confining shelter makes life more measurable to prisoners.

In a study. examined the influence of environmental factors on the mental-health of people in prison found that participants reported lengthy periods of isolation with little mental stimulation contributing to poor mental-health and feelings of anger, frustration, and anxiety. Prisoners spend on average around 8-9 h unlocked, however, it is not uncommon to find in higher-security prisons that some prisoners spend 19-20 h and sometimes up to 23 h a day locked in their cells. According to views, those who are male, on remand and psychotic are likely to be locked up longer than other inmates.

Prisons have high percentage of mentally-ill prisoners.

Firstly, mentally-ill persons are more frequently than others involved in crime due to symptoms like impaired judgment, lack of impulse control, suspiciousness, loss of inhibitions, paranoid ideas, inability to trust others, delusions, and hallucinations and most of them are less smart, so easily caught by police.

Secondly, prisoner's living conditions in prison make them more susceptible to psychiatric disorders. Because conditions in prison are not conducive to good mental-health, prisoners with mental-illness are at risk of experiencing deterioration in their mental state. In 2004, Anderson pointed in a review that psychiatric morbidity including, schizophrenia is higher and perhaps increasing in prison populations compared with general populations and also with dependence syndromes being the most frequent disorders.

He further added that early phase of imprisonment is a vulnerable period with a moderately high incidence of adjustment disorders and twice the incidence in solitary confinement compared with non-solitary confinement. Finally, he concluded that there is a growing population of mentally ill prisoners being insufficiently detected and treated.

The level of confinement and isolation experienced by some prisoners is detrimental to mental-health and people with a pre-existing psychiatric disorder deteriorate, and others who are vulnerable can become psychiatric patients. Long stay of prisoners in prison may be a contributing factor in high number of psychiatric prisoners and vice versa psychiatric persons more involved in unlawful activities and further easily caught by police. In our study, average stay of prisoners in prison was 2½ years but it was difficult to establish its correlation with psychiatric disorders.

Who Is Psychiatrists?, Who Is Psychoanalysts?, Who Is Social Worker?

  • Psychologist:

    A psychologist is a person who studies normal and abnormal mental states, perceptual, cognitive, emotional, and social processes and behavior by experimenting with, and observing, interpreting, and recording how individuals relate to one another and to their environments.

  • Psychiatrist:

    Psychiatrists are medical doctors who are experts in mental health. They specialise in diagnosing and treating people with mental illness. Psychiatrists have a deep understanding of physical and mental health – and how they affect each other. They help people with mental health conditions such as schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder, eating disorders and addiction.

  • Psychoanalysts:

    Psychoanalysts are experienced mental health professionals who have mastered psychoanalytic methods and theories. Psychoanalysts help you, with perseverance, to enable you to understand the deep unconscious part of your mind, to make your life better, meaningful, and worthwhile.

  • Social Worker:

    Social workers are professionals who aim to enhance overall well-being and help meet basic and complex needs of communities and people. Social workers work with many different populations and types of people, particularly focusing on those who are vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty. Depending on their specialty, job title and place of employment, a social worker may be required to participate in legislative processes that often result in the formation of social policies. They lean on social work values and principles, as well as academic research to carry out their work.

  • Role Of Psychologists And Psychiatrists

    • Psychologists are licensed professionals that can assess both mental and physical states. Profilers look for patterns in behavior to typify the individual(s) behind a crime.
      A group effort attempts to answer the most common psychological questions:
      If there is a risk of a sexual predator re-offending if put back in society; if an offender is competent to stand trial; whether or not an offender was sane/insane at the time of the offense.

    • Criminal psychologists can be used to do investigative work, like examine photographs of a crime, or conduct an interview with a suspect. They sometimes have to formulate a hypothesis, in order to assess what an offender is going to do next, after they have broken the law.

    • The question of competency to stand trial is a question of an offender's current state of mind. This assesses the offender's ability to understand the charges against them, the possible outcomes of being convicted/acquitted of these charges and their ability to assist their attorney with their defense. The question of sanity/insanity or criminal responsibility is an assessment of the offender's state of mind at the time of the crime. This refers to their ability to understand right from wrong and what is against the law. The insanity defense is rarely used, as it is very difficult to prove. If declared insane, an offender is committed to a secure hospital facility for much longer than they would have served in prison—theoretically, that is.

    • Legal psychologists, or known as Criminal psychologists are the ones who make the decisions on offenders. They see if those offenders are a threat to society.

    The Four Roles Of Criminal Psychologists

    In 1981, one of the fathers of UK's criminal psychology – Professor Lionel Haward – described four ways that psychologist may perform upon being professionally involved in criminal proceedings.

    These are the following:
    • Clinical:
      In this situation, the psychologist is involved in assessment of an individual in order to provide a clinical judgment. The psychologist can use assessment tools, interview or psychometric tools in order to aid in his/her assessment. These assessments can help police or other comparable organizations to determine how to process the individual in question. For example, help finding out whether he/she is capable to stand trial or whether the individual has mental illness which relates to whether he/she is able or unable to understand the proceedings.

    • Experimental:
      In this case, the task of the psychologist is to perform research in order to inform a case. This can involve executing experimental tests for the purposes of illustrating a point or providing further information to courts. This may involve false memory, eyewitness credibility experiments and such. For example, this way questions similar to how likely would a witness see an object in 100 meters? could be answered.

    • Actuarial:
      This role involves usage of statistics in order to inform a case. For example, a psychologist may be asked to provide probability of an event occurring. For example, the courts may ask how likely it is that a person will reoffend if a sentence is declined.

    • Advisory:
      Here, a psychologist may advise police about how to proceed with the investigation. For example, which is the best way to interview the individual, how best to cross-examine a vulnerable or another expert witness, how an offender will act after committing the offense.


    • Psychoanalysis was founded by Sigmund Freud in Vienna at the beginning of the 20th century. It is based on the idea that human minds consist of both conscious parts and unconscious parts. We all live, without exception, in some forms of unconscious captivity.

    • Psychoanalysis is a practice in which an analyst interacts with an analysand in a special way. It aims for the analysand to understand his/her own self including the unconscious parts from the bottom of his/her heart and to be free from captivity.

    • The analysis and will lie on a couch and is asked to talk freely about what comes into his/her mind. The analyst will sit out of analysand's[1] sight and share time together, thinking about the way in which the analyand's mind is, and sometimes share the thoughts occurring to his/her mind with the analysand. One session lasts for 45-50 minutes, and those sessions are repeated regularly, 4 or 5 times a week in the traditional practice of psychoanalysis since Freud.

    Role Of Professional Social Worker In Indian Correctional Setting

    The role of Social work in prisons is inevitable. Social workers aid correctional institutions in the process of correcting prisoners' behaviour. As mentioned by Devasia and Devasia (1990), social work holds great promise of becoming a useful service for correctional institutions. However, in India, the practice of social work within correctional institutions requires an urgent review. Indian prisons earlier focused exclusively on punishment and are in the process of being converted into correctional institutions with the purpose of reformation and rehabilitation.

    However, the concept of corrections has gained momentum throughout the last two decades. Prisons in India genuinely started its focus on the concept corrections, a task for which personnel are prepared and trained through regional and state-level institutions. Over the years, prison reviews, reports and the relevant penological literature emphasised the need to convert prisons into correctional institutions by employing adequate, competent and qualified correctional staff. Presently, the transformation of prisons into correctional institutions is in its infancy stage.

    Social Workers In CJI – Criminal Justice Institutions

    India's criminal justice system is severely strained. According to 2007 figures of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), there are 3,76,396 inmates in India's 1,276 prisons . The prisons are generally overcrowded. NCRB 2007 figures show that except in seven states and three union territories, the inmate population was greater than the prisons' capacity. In Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, the number of inmates was twice the capacity of prisons in these states.

    Unless they are from privileged backgrounds, people who are confined in CJIs suffer even after their release; the tag of a criminal is heavy, long-lasting and difficult to erase. Friends, colleagues and acquaintances stay away. Past or potential employers want nothing to do with the person.

    In many cases, even families disown the so-called 'criminal' member. Without emotional and financial support to lead a productive, satisfying life there are good chances that a one-time offender is pushed into taking up criminal activities, associating with criminals, or leading a life marked by addiction or destitution.

    The Prison Act 1894 (India) And Its Provisions In Relation To Ideal Positions For Social Workers

    The Prisons Act 1894 (India) has made the following provisions in relation to powers allotted to the States to make rules about what sort of duties, tasks and roles that correctional officers have to perform in the prisons.

    The social workers within Indian prisons can work in every stage of correctional system, all the way from admission to the release of a prisoner. To fish out further details on this matter, the following processes in prisons requires the presence of the social workers to perform particular tasks that they are especially suitable to do.
    1. Admission
      Educating the prisoners about prison life and rules in prisons
      • Taking the case histories of the inmates (which is a task that social workers are skilled at and trained to do)
      • Administering the mental status examination wherever required
      • Identifying emotional disturbances in the prisoners and administering treatments for separation anxiety, phobias about the new environment and people, guilt feelings to be dealt with, and identifying suicidal ideations
      • Identifying prisoners medical problems

    2. Classification
      The classification committee in prisons should involve prison social workers or the welfare officer or the counsellor in the prison who is a qualified social worker.

    3. Quarantine Process for Newly Admitted Prisoners
      The prison social worker educates the prisoners about prison life, adjustment, educates the inmates on prison rules and regulations and prepares the inmate for prison life. The prison social worker also identifies emotional disturbances such as guilt feelings, suicidal ideation, health and mental health problems that prisoners may have. Social workers will assist under trial prisoners to achieve speedy court cases, help them with speedy trial procedures and help apply for videoconferencing trials.

    Prison Suicide And The Role Of Social Workers

    It is evident that the suicide rates are increasing in prisons but the accurate statistics are missing, and the unnatural deaths statistics could also be considered as potentially a suicide. Senior Prison Officers have been reporting suicide attempts and inmates dying in hospitals under the Unnatural Death category. Suicide and self-harm are a menace faced by the prison administration where the intervention of the social worker would prove to be of great help.

    Forensic Psychology

    The definition of forensic psychology is broad and narrow at the same time. It means to combine the practice of psychology and law. If you have seen series such as the Criminal Minds or The Mentalist, you will definitely get what and how forensic psychology works. A forensic psychologist helps in understanding the motive behind why a person would indulge in criminal activities or anti-social behaviour.

    Forensic psychology is a relatively newer field of psychology but its first seeds were laid down in 1879 by the father of psychology Wilhelm Wundt. In the year 1917 psychologist Willian Marston found that the systolic blood pressure could be used to determine when someone is lying. This was the foundation on which the present polygraph detector has been developed.

    Forensic psychology gained momentum after World War II because prior to that psychologists served only as expert witnesses to those trials which did not infringe upon the credibility of medical professionals. Only in 2001, did the American Psychological Association officially recognize forensic psychology as a specialization under the study of psychology. Since then many students of psychology have done dual degrees in psychology and law because of its growing scope in analysing the legal applications of law and such institutions.

    Personal View And Experience After Visiting Prisons And Conversation With Inmates/Prisoners

    There is a high probability for a prisoner to be rearrested for committing a crime after getting released for completing his jail sentence. The probability of an ex-prisoner to get imprisoned again within three years since his release is a startling 68 percent. There have been cases where a man was arrested for domestic abuse, served his term, got released, and then killed his wife. So, does punishment serve any purpose after all?

    Punishment is a conventional and acceptable way for prisoners to repent for their wrongful actions. Criminals convicted of heinous crimes like (gang) rape, mob lynching, domestic and child abuse, murder, manslaughter, etc. should be dealt with an iron fist because research shows that most of these offenders do such acts either out of poor impulse control or some sort of psychiatric issue which was never reported by them.

    Substance abuse and alcoholism also is a huge contributor to the rising rate of crimes, especially related to domestic abuse. But as many argue, is imprisoning them for lifetime enough of a solution? How many from their numbers realize the consequences of their actions?

    As mentioned above, a few percent of the offenders commit crimes out of some kind of mental trigger caused by an unreported or undetected psychiatric issue including schizophrenia, depression, etc. The lack of awareness of mental health and the stigma has been an issue which has had a snowball effect on the rising crime rate. Furthermore, many accused undertrial get arrested for extreme but real acts of self-defence. The delay in bureaucratic systems unnecessarily makes such men and women suffer as well.

    In such cases, punishment is really not the right way to go for. Getting wrongfully arrested or sentenced for a tenure more than required is enough of trauma, the actual getting punished and harassed does nothing more than affecting the psychological and emotional balance of a person. The suicide of the prime accused in the 2012 Nirbhaya gangrape case revealed the dark side of Indian prisons, bringing out that the number of suicide is of 4 persons per day according to a 2001 research, and since then the percentage has risen by nearly 5.50 per cent.

    The funny part is that most of these deaths get earmarked under death by natural cause or assault by outside element and others is for death by unnatural causes. But the Asian Centre for Human Rights reported in 2011 that most of these days are due to custodial torture, many resulting in suicides by the inmates. Women prisoners are subjected to rape and sexual harassment at the hands of other inmates and prison authorities as 'punishment' for their wrong actions and conduct.

    In a nutshell, what goes inside prisons is seldom disclosed to the public because it is seen that those who might speak up are shown their position or just die out of the sheer lack of care for human rights prisoners have by the authorities. Now if I ask you, rehabilitation or punishment, the natural answer would be to make it a necessity for inmates to have a counsellor and psychiatrist so that there is a sign for any mental problem or disturbance they can be accordingly looked after and supervised.

    Also, if there would have been a mental health provider or a medical professional present, the number of cases of mental harassment could go down. This would also make the process of rehabilitating the inmates much easier as their resistance toward seeking mental health would also be de-stigmatized.

    Personal Opinion-Forensic Psychology A Help To Rehabilitation

    There came the time when awareness regarding the sad conditions of prisons and abuse of prison laws brought about worldwide debates. The activists insisted that helping the criminals who committed a crime out of pure inevitable or uncontrollable circumstances should certainly serve a jail term but should also be given therapy so that once they complete their sentence and are let out, they can live whatever is left of their life as a better citizen with more awareness of their actions. This is where the role of rehabilitation comes in. But how effective is it, and what more can be done for it? Is it enough, or does the conventional style of punishing continue to hold merit?

    Honestly, the job of a forensic psychologist is quite limited, in time and requirement, but it is of importance in deciding the judgement, sentence, and nature of punishment one would be subjected to. Also, in general cases, one would seek the help of a psychologist out of their own volition but in the case of forensic psychologists, the clients might resist the help they are being given, as The need for forensic psychologists is to practically assist the legal officers of the case. They are required to have their education in criminal psychology, law and criminal justice.

    It is to be noted that there is a significant difference between a criminal psychologist and a forensic psychologist. The former primarily focuses on identifying the motive behind a crime and profiling the accused, whereas, the latter does that along with counselling the accused and his or her family.

    Many of those in the prison authorities fail to understand that a good percentage of criminal behaviour is out of an underlying mental illness and lack of access to the required medical help. What could not be accessed by the inmate outside the prison due to poverty can be provided within the prison for free.This is where a forensic psychologist can provide his or her services.

    In order to understand the role of forensic psychologists, let us break down the important tasks a forensic psychologist has to do. This would not only make it easier to remember what makes them different but also how their presence and involvement in the judicial system can make a positive impact on awarding correct and well-reasoned sentences, as well as prioritize the healthcare services which a prisoner is to be provided with during his jail tenure.

    Criminal investigation
    It is the entire process of analysing the crime scene, interviewing the witnesses, aiding the police in their additional investigations and suggesting opinions on the treatment of the offender. Forensic psychologists have to be involved since the beginning so that if the offence was a result of any kind of mental illness, it is detected and gets dealt with accordingly by the authorities.

    Crime analysis
    Also called intelligence analysis, is the stage where the forensic psychologist helps the police in analysing and collecting the relevant evidence based on the links between the behaviour of the offender and the testimonies by the victim(s) and witnesses.

    Interviewing and witness research
    Interviewing the witnesses of the case is an important aspect to determine what exactly happened and infer from those interviews the actual motive that caused such an act to happen. The presence of a forensic psychologist along with police officials is a requirement because the psychologist can figure out through studying the witnesses who are lying, hiding or might turn hostile. The manner in which the interview is conducted is also of importance.

    Police Psychology
    Repeated exposure to unpleasant or negative crime scenes does have an impact on a police officer. After all, continuous exposure to hostility can alter and affect one's psychological as well as mental peace. Forensic psychologists have been involved in recruiting and selecting the right kind of policemen for a particular case since the last two decades in various countries. This is because they understand the impact a right officer can have on a case over an officer who might not be psychologically fit for the same case.

    Expert Eyewitness
    Although in India the jury trial system has been abolished, the presiding officer of a certain typical criminal case might need the assistance of an expert eyewitness to determine the way forward for the case. Forensic psychologists in this respect help the presiding officer not with the facts but with the opinions or mental/emotional aspect of the case.

    Emotional does not mean the plight of the accused's family but the mental and emotional state which led to the circumstances of the case. These opinions are stated after a thorough study of the accused, the victim or family and the witnesses. In this stage, the sentence to be awarded is based on these premises of possible inferred conclusions.

    Good Lives Model
    In prison, the psychologists create what is known as the Good Lives Model which is aimed at teaching the inmates what it means to live a 'good life' by the society and which actions are seen as a deviance from the 'good'. It basically teaches the inmates the norms of society which they should follow once they are released.

    Therapeutic Jurisprudence
    The basic job requirement of forensic psychologists is to provide therapy. Therapeutic jurisprudence showcases that every law has been created as a stricter form of therapy which is punitive in nature. This model is also aimed at the well-being of the inmates by following the legal reformative provisions of laws to improve the behaviour of the offenders so that they understand the legal consequences of an offence or anti-social behaviour. It also lays down the legal guidelines the authorities are supposed to follow so that no legal right of the offender is violated as well.

    Human Rights Model
    The Human Rights Model is not only for the inmates but also for the prison authorities so that they are well-aware about which of their actions violate the human rights of the inmates and which actions can be considered as a correct form of punishment. This model aims to balance the aspect of punishing and respecting the human rights of the prisoners. Prisoners are taught this model to respect each other so that internal aggression between them is reduced to a minimum.

    In India, very few states understand the importance of professional social work interventions in the prisons. The prison population keeps rising higher and higher every year, and the rate of recidivism in India keeps increasing. The rate of recidivism has now reached 15.1 percent among the under trials and 3.5 percent among the convicted population (National Crime Records Bureau, 2016). Therefore intervention needed among the under trial population and the habitual offenders. By increasing the strength of professional social workers, the rate of recidivism could be challenged and reduced.

    Overall to summarise:
    • The Indian prison system needs to understand the role and importance of professional social workers in prisons;
    • The prison administrators should be professionally qualified social workers;
    • Unless social workers are inducted into the prison system, India cannot convert its prisons into successful correctional institutions; and
    • Prisons may develop and progress in their rehabilitative work programs but cannot be true correctional institutions without the help of social work intervention.

    Unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways.
    The mind is like an iceberg, it floats with one-seventh of its bulk above water.

    1. a person undergoing psychoanalysis.

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