‘Inmates with mental disorders increasing’

Published April 28, 2019
There are approximately 4,688 prisoners on death row in Pakistan, of which 188 mentally ill are in Punjab alone. — AFP/File
There are approximately 4,688 prisoners on death row in Pakistan, of which 188 mentally ill are in Punjab alone. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: Presence of people with mental disorders in detention facilities is steadily increasing in Pakistan.

According to authorities, there are approximately 4,688 prisoners on death row in Pakistan, of which 188 mentally ill are in Punjab alone.

This was stated by Executive Director, Justice Project Pakistan, Sarah Belal while speaking at a consultative dialogue on ‘Mental Healthcare in Detention Facilities’.

The event was organised by the National Academy for Prison Administration in collaboration with International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Justice Project Pakistan at a local hotel.

Ms Belal said: “Mentally ill people are not responsible for their crimes because the intention element is not always there or at least not to the same extent.”

Consultant psychiatrist Asma Humayun in her presentation said it was extremely important to develop a mechanism to identify people who were at risk of mental disorders or were already mentally unwell when they are entering detention facilities.

“Many prisoners might not have mental disorders but instead might be suffering from learning disabilities. A majority of prisoners suffering from common mental disorders can be treated by non-specialists,” she said.

A panel comprising IG prisons and jail superintendents also discussed the challenges of managing detainees with mental disorders, gaps in existing mental healthcare in prisons, legal deliberations on issues of mental incapacity, limitations of forensic assessments and reports, and implementation of mental health legislation.

They said there were serious medical and ethical concerns for detainees with mental disorders.

The issue also creates a significant burden on an over-crowded and under-resourced correctional system.

The association between mentally ill detainees and prison environment is a complex one where people with mental disorders are vulnerable as both, victims and violators.

The aim of the conference was to assess mental healthcare needs in prison and identify gaps in existing services.

Published in Dawn, April 28th, 2019

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