Are inmates at risk at Feltham prison young offenders institution?

Posted by Malcolm Johnson on


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The BBC reports that Feltham Prison and Young Offenders Institution and has been labelled "unacceptably violent" by inspectors who found "unprecedentedly high" use of batons by staff.

The prison witnessed on average almost two fights or assaults every day and HM Inspectorate of Prisons found that some of the fights had very serious consequences.

So does a prison owe a duty of care to inmates? The law suggests that it does. The cases of Ellis v Home Office [1953] 2 All ER, 149, CA 154and Palmer v Home Office, The Guardian, 31 March 1988, CA establish that the Home Office (now the Ministry of Justices) owes a duty to a prisoner to take reasonable care for his safety.

In another leading case, Hartshorn v The Home Office Unreported Court of Appeal 21st January 1999, Lord Justice Stuart Smith said at the conclusion of his judgment:-

"It is important to appreciate that this case depends on its own particular facts. In any prison, there is some risk that prisoners will be violent to each other. If they are determined to attack other inmates they are usually cunning enough to do so at a time when someone's back is turned, or there is no immediate supervision. Unless there is a known propensity to violence by the aggressor, known animosity to the victim or particular vulnerability of the victim, such attacks cannot be prevented, because it is impossible to segregate such people or supervise them all the time."

In Hartshorn, there was no warning of any kind given to the prison officers or any other person of an impending attack. In fact the reasons for the assault were never established.In Porterfield v Home Office Times Law Reports 9th March 1988 the court said that the reasonableness of the actions taken by the prison officers had to be applied in the light of the facts known by them at the time, and were not to be judged by facts known later.

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Malcolm is an Senior Associate in our London office, with nearly twenty years' experience.

Malcolm Johnson
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