The death of an inmate due to foul play or negligence is the most extreme form of prisoner abuse. Correctional facilities have to provide a reasonable measure of safety to inmates, not to mention take care of a prisoner’s health needs. When the prison fails to do this and the inmate dies, the immediate family may have a civil claim for the death.
If an imprisoned loved one of yours died due to irresponsibility on the part of the correctional facility, you deserve to know your legal options. The civil rights attorneys of Hale & Monico can help. We work hard to hold prisons accountable when they make mistakes that cost their inmates’ lives.
How does a death in prison happen?
Not every inmate’s death is something that can be prevented, nor is every death automatically the fault of the prison. Prisoners can die from purely natural causes or unexpected events that no one can predict or control. Cases like these likely do not raise the possibility of litigation. But when a prisoner dies because of negligence or foul play, the death can generally be placed into one of four categories:
Health problems. Some inmates come to prison with pre-existing health issues, while others develop conditions during their incarceration. Either way, the prison is responsible for providing necessary medical treatment and reasonable care to its inmates. If an inmate is suffering from a problem and the prison does nothing to address it, those in charge can be held responsible.
There are even cases in which inmates are purposely denied medical treatment as a form of punishment or simply because the prison staff doesn’t take the health issue seriously. Guards and others may believe the inmate is faking a condition and refuse to allow medical personnel to treat him or her. Cases like these can cost the life of a prisoner and lead to a civil case against the prison.
Suicide. Prison suicide is a major cause of death. Despite the restrictions on what inmates can have in their cells and near-constant surveillance, many inmates find ways to end their lives. Even a suicide watch doesn’t guarantee that a prisoner won’t take his or her own life. A prison can’t completely guarantee that a determined inmate won’t commit suicide, but not all facilities do enough to stop it.
If an inmate has expressed a desire to kill him- or herself or has attempted to do so, the prison should take action. This could include providing mental health treatment and medication and placing the inmate on suicide watch, among other steps. However, far too many staff members are simply negligent in their obligation to prevent suicide, or they don’t care enough to try.
Attacks by other inmates. Another cause of prisoner death is other prisoners. Fatal assaults, beatings, and murders can happen even in the secure environment of a prison. While officials are generally responsible for keeping prisoners safe, they sometimes fail to do so. In the most egregious cases, they turn a blind eye to attacks and allow prisoners to get killed.
Although it’s not possible to prevent every attack, and many happen without warning, there are still other cases in which prison officials should have taken preventive action. That could include segregating prisoners from the general population or keeping known troublemakers away from potential victims. If it’s determined that the prison failed to take reasonable steps to keep an inmate from being killed, the facility can be held responsible.
Death by prison officials. In some of the worst cases, prison officials are directly responsible for killing inmates. While there are instances involving the murder of inmates, many of these cases involve the use of excessive force against prisoners. Guards have the right to break up fights and use reasonable restraint to control violent or agitated inmates. But this crosses the line when illegal chokeholds or other methods are deployed.
Holding prison staff responsible for killing inmates isn’t easy. Other prisoners are likely going to be reluctant to speak, or there may simply be no witnesses to what happened. But some cases are helped by autopsies and surveillance footage that can paint a clearer picture of what happened.
Who is responsible for a prisoner death?
Most people think of jails and prisons as being run by the government, and this is true to an extent. However, many facilities are owned or managed by private companies. Further, many healthcare services are provided by private medical companies contracted by the prison. In several prison death cases, there are several potential defendants, including all of the above plus individual guards, wardens, and staff members.
An experienced attorney understands that having more potential defendants will help the family win the compensation they need. After an inmate commits suicide, for example, there may be evidence that a guard neglected his or her duty. But liability could extend up the food chain to include the prison management itself, depending on the circumstances. A skilled civil rights attorney will work to bring all parties into the case who could be found liable.
Contact Our Attorney For Death In Prison Cases
Prisoners have civil rights, and they include the right to adequate healthcare and safety during their incarceration. Our law firm wants to protect those rights by holding prison facilities and officials accountable for wrongful death. If a loved one of yours died in prison, call the civil rights lawyers of Hale & Monico.