Most young first-time offenders, who had committed petty crimes and were imprisoned at Saidapet sub-jail, reported substance abuse and had personality issues, a team of psychiatrists and social workers of the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) has observed.
In three sessions with the first-time offenders aged 18 to 24 years at the sub-jail, the psychiatrists observed that the majority of them committed crimes under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Some of them had symptoms of depressive disorders.
IMH is one of the stakeholders in PARAVAI (Personality Attitude Reformation Assistance Venture Affirming Identity), a project that aims at rehabilitating young first-time offenders to keep them away from repeating offences in the future. A team comprising a medical officer, clinical psychologist, social worker, art therapist and NGO representatives has paid three visits to the Saidapet sub-jail so far – once in 15 days – interacting with 20 to 25 youngsters each time.
“Our role is to identify persons with substance abuse and mental health issues, and provide required assistance once they are released from the sub-jail. We have to interact with them, address their concerns, screen them for substance use and mental health issues and give referral to IMH for outpatient (OP)/in-patient (IP) service,” said Devi Dhanapalan, senior assistant professor, IMH.
Many of them go through depression, lack support systems, and have committed petty offences such as involvement in brawls/altercations under intoxication, she said, adding: “The aim is to help them understand what led to their committing an offence. It could be substance use, family history of criminal behaviour, environment, personality factors and social stressors such as poverty and lack of education. We have to modify these factors so that they do not move to the next stage.”
The team noticed that being in a prison for the first time was a very stressful experience for the youngsters. “Being separated from their families and the uncertainty over bail and sureties was stressful. In such a situation, many of them were willing to meet and talk with us. It was an opportunity for them to open up,” she said.
Every session starts on a simple note – stories and games to serve as an icebreaker. This is followed by person-to-person interaction. “Once they are released, the police, along with the parents/caregivers, bring them to the OP or IP treatment at IMH. As of now, we have three persons under treatment – one of them admitted for substance abuse and two as outpatients. We provide medications, psychotherapy, relaxation therapy and de-addiction services for them,” Dr. Devi said.
P. Poorna Chandrika, director of IMH, said after initial stigma of coming to IMH, there was a slow and steady inflow to the institute. “Parents of these youngsters are confident of bringing them to the institute. We have a long way to go. The aim is to help reintegrate these youngsters into the society without any past history,” she said.
Dr. Devi added that this was started as a pilot project at Saidapet sub-jail and may be extended to other centres as well.