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Mental Health And Criminal Justice System: An Extensive Analysis Within Indian Jurisdiction

The topic of mental health has become increasingly important, especially in the COVID-19 pandemic. This research work aims to link the topic of mental health with the criminal justice system. At first glance they may look like completely unrelated subjects, but the impact they have on each other is significant.

This paper first deals with the topic of Mental Health and the Indian Society's Attitude towards it, as it is imperative to know about the view of our society on mental health before delving into its link with criminal justice. Mental Health is still stigmatised in India, and anyone who is not mentally well is termed as 'crazy' or 'mad'. Because of this stigma, many do not consult psychiatrists. Added to this is the financial burden as such facilities are quite expensive for many Indians.

The paper then deals with the link between the criminal justice system and mental health, which is, at the most basic level, the concept of mens rea or guilty mind element, that is needed to prove a criminal act, and becomes hard to prove it if the person who committed the crime was not aware of their actions in the first place.

The paper also discusses the mental health issues faced by prisoners in India, along with the specific problems experienced by female prisoners. The paper also covers the sphere of attempted suicide and its legality, a topic governed by criminal law. Finally, the paper discusses cases relevant to the topic, 'Mental Health and Criminal Justice System'.

Introduction
Recent developments and new research have led us to delve deep again into the matter of mental health and the criminal justice system's attitude towards the same. It has been proven time and again that the traditional approach to the problems of mental disability that people fake most of the time to escape liability and work is no longer effective. In fact, the approach has never been effective and has caused a lot of problems.

However, the criminal justice system is evolving and is changing its approach. These changes are pretty evident when we look and try to understand the recent cases of Mahendra K.C. and Accused 'x'. All these changes provide us with a great perspective view of the future of the criminal justice system and its approach towards mental health especially within the India jurisdiction.

Considering the delicacy of the issues that involve crimes that relate to mental health issues, it is imperative for us to consider and pursue the matter with utmost seriousness. The most important thing at the moment is to change the stereotypical approach to mental health problems. Mental health issues have also increased a tendency among people to commit suicides which also needs to be dealt with seriously.

Mental Health and Indian Society's Attitude Towards It

Nearly 1 billion individuals worldwide suffer from a mental illness, with more than 75% of those in low-income nations not receiving care or medical counseling. Nearly 3 million individuals die each year as a result of substance misuse. Every 40 seconds, someone commits suicide. By the age of 14, around half of all mental health illnesses have emerged.

It is claimed that without mental health, there is no health. Mental health is a state of well-being in which each individual reaches his maximum ability, is able to cope with daily hassles, works productively and efficiently, and contributes to his own society. In other words, Disturbances in a person's thinking, feeling, or behavior (or a combination of both) that imply a problem with mental function are known as mental health problems.

They make social life, career, and family activities difficult or impossible. This means that a person with good mental health will be able to handle stress and anxiety and will be able to work productively without having mental breakdowns. Hence, our psychological, emotional, and social well-being are all part of our mental health. This implies that it has an influence on how we feel, think, and act on a daily basis. Our mental health has an effect on how we make decisions, how we deal with stress, and how we interact with people.

Mental health concerns encompass a wide range of challenges. Issues like depression, anxiety, post- traumatic stress disorder, etc. are all a part of mental health. With the world becoming virtual, and everyone striving to become the best version of themselves, mental health issues have risen a lot. Let's understand this through an example. Let's assume that a person is constantly comparing himself to others.

This will reduce his confidence and self-esteem. This can even have an adverse affect on his mental health. He'll be stressed and may develop anxiety. Anxiety, if not treated at the right time will induce other serious mental disorders thereby ruining his overall health. This also explains why therapy for mental health concerns is so important. In addition to this, mental health issues occur in all age groups and across all genders.

A lot of times, people take mental health for granted and therefore do not care about it. With a lot of people raising awareness about mental health and its importance, the government has also tried its best. To enhance this awareness, the Indian government has established new platforms such as the MANAS app. In addition, the Mental Health Care Act was also amended in 2017.

This amendment decriminalised the attempt to suicide in India. Changes in societal views have always influenced the law of our land. The fundamental reason for decriminalising suicide was the realisation that an individual who attempts suicide is already in deep sorrow, despair due to mental health problems, and penalizing that person will only add to the anguish and mental torture that they are already experiencing.

For a long time, psychologists and social scientists have been concerned about the decline in mental health among the typical Indian. However, in an era of rapid technological innovation and fierce employment competition, it has been one of the least discussed topics. Psychiatrists, on the other hand, are still in short supply, making it difficult to adequately treat the problem.
Mental health is considered taboo in India, and it receives little attention and importance.

A lot of people don't pay much attention to the mental health of the people in their friends or even their family members. They think that with time, everything would get better without any assistance. So, people don't want to discuss their issues because they have the fear of being looked down on or being judged by the society.

According to a research published in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry on the rate of psychological morbidities among the general public, healthcare staff, and COVID-19 patients, around half of the population was affected by the pandemic's psychological effects. The most often reported issues across studies were poor sleep quality (40%), stress (34%), and psychological discomfort (34%). However, even during this period of isolation, when the mental health issues increased, not much attention was given to it.

People dealing with mental illness are regarded as "crazy" or "mad." This is the prominent reason because of which people are reluctant to go for psychiatrists. Also, because of the stigma, people are not comfortable talking about mental health in public thereby making it difficult to seek help or treatment for it. Mental problems are also seen to be the result of inadequate self-discipline and determination.

Mental health stigma, as well as a lack of accessibility, affordability, and awareness, lead to severe treatment disparities. This gap is approximately 50%�60% for schizophrenia, 88 percent for depression, 97.2 percent for substance misuse, and 22 percent�95 percent for seizure disorders. The treatment gap for common mental diseases is 95%, which is greater than the 76 percent gap for severe disorders. Furthermore, special populations like orphans, homeless youth, juvenile institutions, old age homes, and many other places are at a higher risk of mental illness have received less attention.

One another reason is economic burden. A lot of people who face mental illness come from lower class or middle-class families. Therapy for these issues costs a fortune. A research study revealed that the costs of treating mental illnesses sometimes put families in a financial bind. This burden was accentuated in the case of middle-aged people � who were also the most afflicted by mental diseases � because it impacts their productivity, increasing the weight not just on the person but also on the economy.

Mental health awareness is the need of the hour. With COVID-19 lockdown coming into view, this situation has not reduced. Now, more than before, it is important for the government and individuals to step up the game and talk openly about mental health. The stigma should be removed gradually and treatment for such problems should be encouraged as well.

Mental Health and Criminal Justice

When it comes to criminal law, one must understand the concepts of actus reus and mens rea. Actus reus refers to the act element of the crime; that is, a wrongful act has been committed. It is thus a bodily movement that is voluntary. It needs to be supplemented by another element, that of a guilty mind or mens rea. Both mens rea and actus reus are needed to define a crime.

Thus, according to Lord Diplock, if mens rea cannot be proved, no crime has been committed. This process for defining a criminal act seems quite logical and straightforward, but becomes quite complicated and even quite controversial when the actions of a mentally disabled person are considered. Proving their mens rea may be difficult, as it is possible that the person was not even aware of their actions, and thus their act may not be defined as a crime.

The Indian Penal Code states that if an unlawful act is done by a person who could not know the nature of their act because of unsoundness of mind, cannot be termed as an offence. Moreover, death penalty for crimes committed by mentally unsound people had been disallowed by a bench led by Justice NV Ramana in 2019, although he stressed the importance of this rule being used only in cases of mental illness that are extreme.

But this is only the surface of the relationship between mental health and the criminal justice system. People who are mentally disabled have to struggle more in the process despite the Penal Code's provision. Due to their mental condition they are more likely to commit crime, and thus get arrested and imprisoned.

This is despite the National Human Rights Commission's Chairman's directive that the mentally disabled are not to be lodged in prisons, and called for the state governments to provide them with proper care. Prisons are the worst place for a person without soundness of mind. Unhealthy and overcrowded living conditions, paired with an already placed class system in Indian prisons, where the prisoners from higher social classes tend to be treated better, make for a disastrous place for many prisoners, and are amplified for the mentally disabled who need more care.

According to the India Justice Report 2020, roughly 25% of the Medical Staff positions in prisons are vacant in nearly half of the states and union territories. Some states like Nagaland and Uttarakhand did not have any medical officers. Given these conditions, along with isolation for most of the day, the state of mentally disabled people is bound to worsen as these are not inducive to good mental health.

A study of prisoners in a Rajasthan jail by Vinod Kumar and Usha Daria found that 16.1% of the prisoners experienced depressive disorder, along with 8.5% of the prisoners experiencing anxiety, and 26.3% of them experienced neurotic disorders. Overall, one in three prisoners had psychiatric disorders.

Added to this is the lack of rehabilitation facilities; prisons do not tend to provide post-release support and causes problems with re-integration of society, which would prove to be even harder for the mentally disabled, and can lead to higher rates of recidivism, or re-commission of crime. This further reiterates the importance of trained staff in jails, as they can help identify and remedy such disorders in a timely manner. Due to COVID-19, pschylogical distress has also risen amongst prisoners, largely due to worries about the safety of their family members or fellow inmates.

Women prisoners have a double disadvantage when it comes to mental health in prisons; not only are the living conditions unhealthy, but they also have to face gender discrimination. A study of women prisoners revealed that most women prisoners had committed offences that were related to their in-law's cruelty, humiliation and domestic abuse by husbands. The study also found that a fourth of the respondents had had a depressive episode, and 1.5% of them had inflicted self-harm. Moreover, 30% of the female prisoners had tested positive for one or more drugs.

HIV and Hepatitis C is also very prevalent, due to either unprotected sex or drug abuse. The study also noted that most women were not aware of their legal aid rights. It is imperative that reforms are taken place for female prisoners because of their double disadvantage, such as mental health counselling, formation of peer-support groups for prisoners, facilities to de-addict prisoners from drugs and an all-female staff cadre.

A major problem with regards to mental health in our criminal justice system is of suicide. The Prison Statistics India 2019 showed that the suicide rate amongst prisoners is twice than that of the rest of the country, with 116 prisoners committing suicide. In 2020, that number jumped to 189. Suicide has been a criminal offence as per Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code 1860, stating that an attempt to commit suicide is punishable by a maximum of 1 year of imprisonment.

However, with the Mental Healthcare Act 2017, attempt to suicide has been decriminalized as per Section 115, by assuming that a person who tries to commit suicide is under severe stress, and thus would not be tried under the Penal Code, and will receive proper care from the concerned Government.

Thus, it does away with the injustices of Section 309 of the Penal Code, as the Code prescribed punishment to a person who already found life to be unsatisfactory and unbearable, thus magnifying their suffering. However, it must be noted that Section 115 of the MHA 2017 does not overrule Section 306 dealing with abetment to suicide, which stays punishable.

The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the deterioration of mental health faced by prisoners, given the need to isolate, and the fear and anxiety it brings with regards to contracting it. Moreover, it prevents inmates from consulting the medical staff safely.

The Government thus came up with guidelines related to the use of telepsychiatry, to be followed when an inmate needs to consult a specialist. This includes a direct to patient video conferencing strategy, and collaborative video consultations which would have some medical staff on the patient's end as an intermediary.

Relevant Cases
When we talk about the mental health scenario in India and the Criminal Justice System's approach towards it, it becomes imperative for us to consider many relevant cases that have been heard and diligently disposed of by the hon' Supreme Court and other hon' High Courts. These cases provide us with the gist of the idea behind the relationship between criminal activities and mental health disabilities. Mental health disorders have become a major and perhaps the most important reason behind suicides not just in India but all over the world.

A person suffering from mental disability must be taken care of and treated with love regardless of the fact whether he/she committed a crime or not. In this section we will be discussing about a few significant cases which act as guiding authorities when it comes to the interpretation of mental health disorders and disabilities in the light of Criminal Justice System in India.

Mahendra K.C. v/s The State Of Karnataka And Ors.

In this case, the appellant's brother worked as driver for the accused who happened to be an officer for the State of Karnataka. The deceased had committed suicide and had left a note stating the reason for the same. The note was also posted on his social media account by the deceased himself. He posted it on Facebook and committed suicide thereafter.

The note read that the accused employed various illegal means to earn wealth. He was engaged in many illegal ways of earning money and accumulate wealth. Then the accused used to transfer all of his black money to the deceased bank account to turn them white money.

Thereafter, he used to transfer all the money that he transferred to the deceased bank account to his relatives' accounts. It has been alleged by the appellant that the accused threatened the deceased to kill him and caused a great deal of trauma and stress to him. This made the driver take his own life by consuming poison.

When the matter reached the Karnataka High Court, it was quashed by the single judge bench on the ground that it was a clear wastage of time and if heard, would amount to great travesty of justice. The Hon' Apex Court held that the High Court's decision to halt the investigation was unreasonable and should not have been made for the same reason.

It was not the job of High Court at this stage to act like a Trial Court and test the accuracy of facts. The High Court had also crossed the limits that come with section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. Moreover, the High Court did not examine the accuracy of facts either. It just went on to state its own perception of the case.

The Supreme Court held that this cannot be looked upon with a "one size fits all" approach as the matter was very delicate. The Apex Court also reprimanded the single judge bench of the Karnataka High Court for calling the deceased a "weakling".
Finally, the division bench of Hon' Justice Dr. D. Y. Chandrachud and Hon' Justice B.V. Nagarathna set aside the High Court's Judgment and allowed the appeal of the appellant.

Accused 'X' v/s State Of Maharastra

In this case, the petitioner had been convicted of death penalty on the account of him raping two minor girls brutally and murdering them after the commission of the rape and also having a long history of raping other minor girls. The accused had been previously convicted for raping a nine-year-old girl and another seven-year-old girl.

The mitigating circumstance presented were that the petitioner had an old mother who was dependent on him and also his age which happened to be considerably young but not as young as to absolve him from the death penalty.

The Trial, High and the Supreme Courts held him guilty and had upheld the death penalty awarded to him. Then the review petition was reopened again, this time to plead that the petitioner had become mentally unstable on the account of him being incarcerated for a plenty of years. The mental health condition of the petitioner had deteriorated considerably in the prison. The petitioner was a death row convict and this was his final chance to get his death penalty commuted.

The Apex Court laid some guidelines that must be followed to determine the severity of the mental disorder with the help of a group of experts in this case. A 'Test of severity" must be taken to determine the severity of the mental illness suffered by the convict. In this case, the Court did not deem it necessary to set up a panel to determine the severity in this case as the facts and the other issues pertaining to the case had already been discussed.

The Court held that the petitioner was so disturbed mentally that he won't be able to decipher the reason for which he was being hanged and it would render the whale punishment redundant as the whole purpose of the punishment will be defeated.

For this very reason, the death sentence of the accused was commuted to life imprisonment. Moreover, he was not to be allowed to live with common people in a society ever again. This judgment made India a new member of the league of nations who have recognized the right of mentally unstable people to be saved from death penalty.

Conclusion
Despite the fact that mental health and the criminal justice system are two quite different concepts, they are related in some ways. The research paper focuses on this similarity or inter-relation between mental health and criminal justice system, particularly in India. A legal perspective is included along with some relevant judgements.

The first topic covered in the research paper is related to mental health. This part focuses on numerous definitions and meanings of mental health. Since the topic is limited to Indian Jurisdiction, the perspective of Indian society and its outlook towards the notion of mental health has been dealt with.

It is very clear that the prime reason for rise in mental health problems is stigma or taboo around this concept of mental health. Plus, there is a treatment gap because of stigma, economic and financial challenges, lack of awareness, lack of availability of treatment, etc.

There is a need for removal of this stigma for the betterment of the society. Some findings include:
  • There is a high level of stigma associated with mental health topics in India.
  • Prisons in India are deteriorative for prisoners' mental health, and they tend to be highly understaffed in the medical officer post.
  • Female prisoners have to deal with the mental health issue along with gender discrimination, and the latter tends to be the reason for causing the former.
  • Indian prisoners have a suicide rate double that of the rest of the population.
  • COVID-19 has further increased the anxiety and fear prisoners experience due to the need for isolation and worry of catching the virus.

Then the link between mental health and criminal justice has been explained. The concepts of actus reus and mens rea are expounded in order to make understanding better and comprehensible. Even though lodging people with mental disorders is against the law, one out of three prisoners has psychiatric disorders.

This part of research also highlights how there is a lack of rehabilitation facilities and post- release support for prisoners. The condition of women prisoners is worst as along with bad conditions in jail, they even have to deal with gender discrimination. This further deteriorates their mental health.

Lastly, some pertinent judgments have been noted that serve as guiding authorities when it comes to the interpretation of mental health problems and impairments in the context of India's Criminal Justice System.

Some recommendations include:
  • Early exposure to mental health awareness and guidance, preferably from schools, can help in significantly reducing the stigma associated with it.
  • Provision of more medical staff and psychiatrists in prisons can help prisoners stabilise their mental health which only deteriorates in prison if unchecked.
  • Encouraging the formation of peer-support groups amongst prisoners as a form of group therapy which can aid in their mental health issues.
  • Advancing the facilities needed for distant meetings, such as video calling with family, friends and even consultations with psychiatrists can help prisoners' anxieties.


Award Winning Article Is Written By: Mr.Sankalp Mirani

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