It is a commonly known fact that court cases in India take forever to be heard and while the common people and the media often empathise with the victims and their families, the treatment of the prisoners are less spoken about. This article will discuss the ill-treatment of prisoners in prisons and how it effects their mental health with a focus on the concept of Solitary Confinement.
The issue of under-trials in prisons leads to the overpopulation in said prisons; this overpopulation reduces the quality and standard of living of the prisoners due to lack of caretakers and prison guards which in-turn adds to the worsening physical and mental health of the prisoners. This inhumane treatment of the prisoners makes them feel worthless and objectified which should not be the results expected from a prisoner’s time in prison. It is believed that seeing a prisoner being treated beyond poorly is a form of justice being served to the victim however this way of thinking is sadistic and unfair to those unfortunate innocent prisoners who were done wrong by the justice system for a crime that they did not commit. This can also be seen in juvenile homes and women shelters where additional ill-treatment is faced due to the age and gender of the residents.
THEORIES OF PUNISHMENTS:
The Retributive Theory of Punishment or the “Theory of Vengeance”:
The theory of vengeance is a theory of inflicting a penal sentence over a perpetrator.
It is based on the doctrine of Lex talionis, which if translated, means ‘an eye for an eye’. It is meant to give a sense of “moral justice to the victim/s”. The infamous Nirbhaya case used this theory of punishment in its judgement.
Deterrent Theory of Punishment:
The term “DETER” means to abstain from doing any wrongful act. The main aim of this theory is to prevent the criminals from attempting any crime or repeating the same crime in future. It states that deterring crime by creating a fear is the objective; to set or establish an example for the individuals or the whole society by punishing the criminal.
Preventive Theory of Punishment:
This theory seeks to prevent potential crimes by disabling the criminals. Main object of the preventive theory is transforming the criminal, either permanently or temporarily. Under this theory the criminals are punished by death sentence or life imprisonment etc.
Reformative Theory of Punishment:
This theory deals with the concept of reforming the criminals such that they recover and make better decisions so as to not commit a crime again. For example, an alcoholic being sent to a rehabilitation camp.
There are further studies as well such as the incapacitation theory of punishment, compensatory theory of punishment, utilitarian theory of punishment and a multiple theory approach.
DIFFERENT SENTENCING POWERS:
· Pardon: Removes both, the sentence as well as the conviction. It completely absolves the convict.
· Commutation: Substituting one form of punishment for a lighter one. For example, death penalty is replaced with life imprisonment.
· Remission: Reducing sentence without changing its character.
· Respite: Lesser sentence than original due to some special facts such as a physical disability.
· Reprieve: Delay of a sentence in order to gain time to seek pardon.
The Death Penalty Syndrome is a phenomenon that a prisoner who is on death row experiences. The mental state that they are in, is painful due to the thoughts about losing their lives within the span of a specific time period. The delay of their trials and the changes in their sentencing or execution dates add to this psychological strain.
When a prisoner is isolated from the other prisoners in a separate cell as a form of punishment, the prisoner is said to be in solitary confinement. They have little to no contact or social interaction with the other prisoners, prison guards or any other people. Other forms of punishments according to the Indian Penal Code includes death, simple imprisonment, hard labour imprisonment, imprisonment for life, forfeiture of property, or fine. Transportation for a temporary period or transportation for life is no longer a legal punishment.
According to Section 73 and 74 of the Indian Penal Code, when a person is sentenced to solitary confinement, “the offender shall be kept in solitary confinement for a time not exceeding one month if the term of imprisonment shall not exceed six months; a time not exceeding two months if the term of imprisonment shall exceed six months and [shall not exceed one] year a time not exceeding three months if the term of imprisonment shall exceed one year. In executing a sentence of solitary confinement, such confinement shall in no case exceed fourteen days at a time, with intervals between the periods of solitary confinement of not less duration than such periods; and when the imprisonment awarded shall exceed three months, the solitary confinement shall not exceed seven days in any one month of the whole imprisonment awarded, with intervals between the periods of solitary confinement of not less duration than such periods.” It is a notable factor that these two sections were not amended or added into the Indian Penal Code later on; it was in fact a part of the original statute.
The reason that there a limitation on solitary confinement is because if continued for a long time it is bound to have effects such as mental derangement and insanity. In an episode of the podcast “Ear Hustle”, four men who served between 8 and 28 years in the SHU share their memories of that time. Multiple prisoners who have spent long periods of time in “the box” or “the hole” as they call it, have often been heard wailing, weeping and shouting. Some of them refuse to eat and attempt other forms of self-harm or straight-up suicide. They are left emotionally-rattled and lose their socialising skills. They may begin hallucinating and talking to objects.
While the topic of death penalty is often debated, the mental health of prisoners and solitary confiners deserves more recognition. Whether the prison system in India improves, a new system is introduced or the old one remains, change is inevitable and the law-makers will be compelled to act on it sooner or later.
--  Diva Rai, “Theories of Punishment- A Thorough Study,” iPleaders (iPleaders, January 25, 2022), https://blog.ipleaders.in/theories-of-punishment-a-thorough-study/.  The Indian Penal Code, 1 § (2022).  Nigel Poor, “Episode 4: The Shu,” Ear Hustle (Ear Hustle, February 28, 2020), https://www.earhustlesq.com/episodes/2017/7/26/the-shu.
This article is written by Pavitra Kanchan of O.P. Jindal Global University.