Most people are aware that various laws and constitutional protections prevent officials in prisons and jails from actively abusing inmates. Fewer realize that many of these same laws actually require these officials to take action to prevent prisoners from being harmed. Indeed, a jail or prison, or staff members of the same, could be held liable for failure to protect inmates. If you or a loved one were injured in prison and the guards or staff did not prevent the injury, you could be eligible for substantial financial compensation under police misconduct. It all starts with talking to the experienced civil rights attorneys of Hale & Monico.
What Does “Failure To Protect” Mean?
Prisoner abuse and neglect are fairly broad topics that encompass a number of different acts or omissions. Abuse generally refers to a staff member taking direct action to harm an inmate, while neglect means depriving a prisoner of food, medical attention, or other basic needs. Failure to protect is a little different but generally falls under the prison’s responsibility to care for its inmates.
When someone is arrested and held in jail, or sentenced for a crime and incarcerated in prison, that individual is deprived of the ability to protect him- or herself. Essentially, inmates are at the mercy of the officials who imprison them. A prisoner’s ability to control his or her surroundings is fairly limited, so that obligation must fall to the wardens, guards, and staff members regulating their daily activities.
Failure to protect can take several different forms, including failure to protect an inmate from:
- Other inmates
- The inmate him- or herself
- Environmental conditions
From Other Inmates
This is one of the more widespread and concerning failures of our prison and jail systems. Attacks by other inmates can have serious, even fatal consequences. Certain inmates, especially sex offenders, are at a particularly high risk of being attacked.
Because prisons and jails are responsible for every inmate’s safety, there should be reasonable measures put in place to prevent attacks committed by other prisoners. That means taking steps to prevent the following:
- Stabbings, including from so-called “shivs” (crudely constructed knives and similar weapons)
- Sexual assaults
- Gang violence
This duty may require taking special precautions to protect certain inmates, or to ensure that inmates who may attack each other are kept separate. Yet prisons and jails routinely fail to meet their responsibilities. In some of the worst cases, guards and other staff turn a blind eye to prison or jail assaults and thereby permit inmates to be attacked or killed.
Suicide remains a major problem in prison and jail. Inmates who have threatened to harm or kill themselves should be taken seriously since many of them carry out these threats. A prison or jail may need to place an inmate on suicide watch or take steps to ensure that the prisoner doesn’t have access to something that could be used to commit suicide.
However, these measures require vigilance on the part of prison and jail staff. Even on suicide watch, inmates have been known to kill themselves. And many jails and prisons fail to prevent inmates from accessing items that could be used to commit suicide. Prisoners are creative, so someone determined to commit suicide will look for ways to turn just about anything into a weapon. Prison and jail staff should understand this and take appropriate precautions.
Failure To Protect Inmates From Environmental Conditions
In 2020, Illinois prison officials were sued for failure to protect inmates from the deadly coronavirus. Thousands of inmates in the Illinois Department of Corrections system were unnecessarily put at risk of serious injury or death because either the prisons did not take reasonable safety precautions or because certain inmates who could have been released were not.
Pandemics like the coronavirus are just one example of how prisons can fail to protect inmates from environmental threats. They present a different sort of challenge than attacks from other inmates or suicide attempts. Nonetheless, jails and prisons have a duty to adopt reasonable measures to avoid unnecessary health hazards. They must also provide adequate remedies, like medical attention, in the event an inmate is harmed.
How A Civil Rights Attorney Can Help
No matter the crime or sentence, every inmate deserves to be treated with basic human dignity. The prison system owes this to prisoners, and failure to protect them is a serious breach of that obligation. A dedicated civil rights attorney will investigate the nature of the injury or death, and then get to work uncovering why it happened. Our law firm has experience representing prisoners in all manner of abuse and neglect cases. We can also help an inmate’s family demand justice in the event a prisoner has died from his or her injuries.
Contact Our Failure To Protect Prisoner Rights Attorney
Hale & Monico works tirelessly to ensure that the civil rights of prisoners are protected. If a jail or prison has failed to protect you or someone you love, give us a call today to schedule your confidential consultation.