[JURIST] The Alaska Supreme Court [official website] ruled on Friday that prisons have a duty to protect inmates from violence at the hands of other inmates [opinion, PDF]. The ruling will allow a lawsuit by a former inmate, Richard Mattox, to continue in the lower courts. Mattox was attacked by inmates after receiving several threats while security guards failed to respond to his concerns. Security guards repeatedly refused Mattox’s requests for assistance [Anchorage Daily News report] in response to the threats, stating they were not required to do so. However, the court reasoned:
We have not previously considered whether assaults by other inmates fall within the scope of a jailer’s duty to protect, but our precedents point in that direction, permitting liability even for intentional harmful acts, including assault by prison staff as well as suicide. There is no persuasive legal or policy argument why violence between persons in the Department’s custody should be treated differently.
The ruling reversed the lower court decision stating that for security guards to be required to act there must be immediate, identifiable, and specific danger. Mattox suffered a fractured eye socket, broken nose and a sinus fracture.
The treatment of prisoners and prison reform [JURIST podcast] is a growing concern worldwide. Earlier this month, UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) [official website] found [JURIST report] Argentine authorities had failed to ensure equal access and use of prison services and facilities for a prisoner with disabilities. Also in April, experts from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [official website] voiced concern [JURIST report] about the lack of medical treatment to two political prisoners in Iran who are at risk of dying in detention, given that the government has not responded to requests for specialized medical treatment. In February, New York agreed to prison reforms [JURIST report] that would reduce the use of solitary confinement and ban solitary confinement for prisoners under 18 years old, pregnant inmates, and developmentally disabled and intellectually challenged prisoners, a move which was argued might spark other reforms [JURIST op-ed].