Prisoner Suicide & Sexual Assault
Although convicted and sentenced to a prison term, inmates are still entitled to protection under the U.S. Constitution and state and federal laws. Among those civil rights protections is the right to be free from assault and battery, including rape and sexual assault by other prisoners or staff.
Regardless of whether they are operated by the state or federal government or a private corporation, correctional facilities have a duty to ensure the safety of their inmates. When a jail or prison willfully or negligently breaches that duty, it must be held accountable for the resulting physical injury, loss of dignity, emotional harm, or death of the inmate. That’s where the Lamothe Law Firm steps in.
Prisoner Civil Rights Violations
According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, more than two million people – male and female adults and youth under the age of 18 – are incarcerated in local, state, and federal prisons and jails.
While prisons are intended to house inmates away from the outside world, those facilities must still afford inmates certain constitutional rights, especially the freedom from excessive force or unreasonable harm. Recent studies reveal that prisoners have higher rates of physical and mental injury than the general public, yet the quality of health care they are given is often far worse, including limited access to medical examinations and prescription medicine.
Inmate Suicides & Suicide Attempts
Mental illness contributes to prison suicides, which have risen sharply over the last five years. Just like hospitals and mental health facilities, jails and prisons have a duty to provide care and protection for suicidal inmates – a very real and common problem. Recent statistics show that suicide is the leading cause of inmate deaths in U.S. correctional facilities.
Prisons have a responsibility to identify individuals who demonstrate suicidal ideation, signs and symptoms that include depression, anxiety, suicidal threats, alcohol or drug abuse, self-harm, expression of shame or guilt, a sense of hopelessness and despair, and other behavioral indications. When these warning signals are present, prison staff should implement suicide watch protocols, including proper monitoring, restraints, and emergency intervention as necessary.
If the failure to do so results in an inmate’s injury or death, the jail or prison may be held liable for its negligence or willful disregard for the inmate’s health.
Prison Sexual Abuse
The most egregious harm, however, is from sexual assault and abuse in prisons. An estimated 80,000 inmates are sexually victimized each year, of which:
- Four percent experience sexual victimization.
- Nearly ten percent of juveniles in custody experience sexual victimization.
- Half of the reported allegations of nonconsensual sexual acts or sexual abuse are of inmates by other inmates.
- Half involved sexual misconduct, sexual abuse, or sexual harassment of inmates by the staff.
Although the number of rapes and sexual assaults is staggering, inmates may not be aware that the federal Civil Rights Act, the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act, and state laws in Louisiana and elsewhere provide a means to hold the perpetrators accountable both criminally and in civil actions. Damages available from a successful lawsuit can include compensation for physical injuries, emotional distress, psychological harm, and other economic damages caused by the pain and suffering.
Rape and Sexual Assault by Another Inmate
Sexual victimization of an inmate can occur in many ways – adult-on-adult, male-only, female-only, adult-on-youth, and youth-on-youth. Similarly, sexual assault and rape can happen at any time, from short-term lockup in a local jail before arraignment to several years into a long-term prison sentence.
BJS statistics show that there are higher rates of sexual assault against inmates with serious psychological distress. Because an average of 40 percent of inmates report being told by a health professional that they have a mental disorder, there are thousands of prisoners in danger of rape and abuse as well as the risk of sexually transmitted infections and diseases, including HIV and AIDS.
Correctional facilities allow or even encourage inmate-on-inmate sexual misconduct to occur when they:
- Fail to segregate known sexual offenders from other inmates, especially inmates at risk for sexual assault.
- Place youth inmates in adult inmate populations.
- Place mentally or physically disabled inmates in areas or environments where they are likely to be assaulted.
- Fail to properly investigate reports of sexual assault and take appropriate action.
- Fail to comply with federal- and state-mandated prison safety regulations.
Sexual Misconduct by a Prison Guard or Correctional Officer
More disturbing is sexual assault and rape perpetrated by jail staff or prison guards, the people responsible for maintaining order and enforcing safety rules. Victims may feel powerless to resist and are often threatened to not report the rape or abuse.
In a civil lawsuit for staff-on-inmate sexual assault, additional claims may be brought, such as negligent hiring, negligent supervision, or the failure to discipline, reassign, or terminate the staff member.
Talk to a Lawyer with Experience Handling Prison Suicide, Sexual Abuse, and Excessive Force Claims
Correctional facilities that fail to protect inmates, sexual assault, suicide, or unreasonable force while they are in jail or prison must be held responsible. If you or a family member have been raped, molested, or sexually abused when incarcerated, or if a loved one committed suicide while in prison, please contact the Lamothe Law Firm today to discuss your case and your right to compensation.