Does the prison service have a duty of care towards prisoners?

Duty of Care to protect that prisoner from injury

The Prison Service, the Prison Governor, the Prison Director and all members of staff in a particular prison owe a duty of care to the prisoner to take reasonable care in the circumstances to protect him or her from injury.  This is therefore a civil law duty of care imposed on all people working in a prison.

What will happen if a prison officer fails to protect a prisoner from injury by other prisoners?

If prison staff fail to take reasonable precautions to prevent an attack on a prisoner by another prisoner or prisoners they can be liable for damages in law.

Furthermore this duty of care is re-enforced by Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights which imposes a positive obligation to take preventative operational measures to protect an individual whose life is at risk.

What factors will be taken into account in establishing what amounts to reasonable care?

Reasonable care in the particular circumstances of a situation will mean that the prison staff or managers will have to exercise their judgment as to the nature and extent of the threat on that particular prisoner and will have to put in place those certain measures which they believe to be appropriate to protect that prisoner from harm.

What happens if the prisoner is at fault in failing to protect themselves?

If a prisoner is at fault in failing to protect themselves from harm in the prison, this cannot be used to absolve the Prison Service and its staff from their obligations. In other words the staff still owes a duty of care to that prisoner to protect him from harm regardless of whether the prisoner is concerned and takes appropriate measures himself.

Are there any specific factors to indicate when a prisoner may be likely to suffer harm?

There are no specific factors to indicate when a prisoner may be likely to suffer harm at the hands of other prisoners. Accordingly this will vary from case to case with the Prison Service and its staff adequately trained to spot this and required to use measures which they deem appropriate according to the individual facts of that case.

Will a prisoner ever be segregated to protect himself from harm from other prisoners?

On occasions prison staff may deem it appropriate to segregate a prisoner from the rest of the prisoners in order to protect his safety. Accordingly the following factors will be taken into consideration to deem whether this measure is appropriate:

  • Whether that prisoner has been threatened, assaulted or bullied

  • Whether the nature and the extent of any such threat is sufficient to justify segregation

  • Whether improved supervision on the prison wing, transfer to another prison wing or transfer to another prison would be deemed a more appropriate solution

  • Whether the prisoner is unable to cope with the normal location

  • Whether the prisoner has been convicted of an offence that has attracted media attention and is likely to create resentment amongst the other prisoners

  • Whether the prisoner has come under pressure to bring drugs or other contraband into the prison

  • Whether the prisoner is an informant or suspected of being so by the other prisoners

  • Whether the prisoner is segregated from the rest of the prison would that prisoner’s mental health deteriorate which may lead to an increased risk of self injury or suicide?

Does Prison staff have a duty of care to prevent a prisoner harming themselves?

One of the biggest issues faced by the prison service is the problem of self harm and suicide amongst prisoners. The duty of care to prevent harm to prisoners therefore extends to the situation whereby a prisoner can harm themselves. This is often an occurrence when a prisoner is moved into segregation as stated above and in some circumstances that prisoner may be placed on suicide watch.

What is meant by suicide watch?

Suicide watch will occur whereby a prisoner has exhibited certain mental health issues which may lead to suicide such as depression or they have in fact expressed a desire to take their own life. In these circumstances that prisoner should be placed under continual surveillance to ensure that they do not attempt to take their own life – this surveillance is termed suicide watch.

Would a failure to place a prisoner on suicide watch amount to a breach of the duty of care?

In a case whereby a prisoner is showing signs of certain mental conditions such as paranoid psychosis and expressing a desire to die and that prisoner is not provided with the treatment that he requires and is not placed on immediate suicide watch would be viewed as a clear breach of the duty of care on the behalf of the prison service.

What should be the appropriate course of action for a mentally ill patient?

If a patient was showing signs of certain mental illnesses due to the stresses and strains of living within a prison under the duty of care owed to them by the prison service they should be placed into proper mental health care. A desire to place that prisoner simply into segregation would not be an adequate solution under the duty of care owed to that prisoner.