A 67-year-old prisoner with terminal liver cancer died while still chained to a guard as he underwent end of life treatment in hospital, it has emerged.
The inmate, who has not been named, had been convicted of manslaughter in 1969 and was unable to move unaided. He had lost all contact with his family and had been compliant with the prison regime, the report found.
The Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) said managers at category C HMP Channings Wood did not show appropriate compassion or act upon medical evidence by failing to remove the handcuffs.
The case was one of 51 incidents in the past five years in which the prison authorities used inappropriate levels of restraint on inmates, in the majority of cases when they were in hospital.
This accounted for more than one in 10 of all deaths by natural causes in jail over the period and comes amid mounting concern over the standard of care afforded Britain’s ageing and ailing prison population. Inmates aged over 60 are now the fastest growing section of the prison population and last year the number of deaths in custody by natural causes was 142 – up 20 on the previous year.
PPO Nigel Newcomen, who investigates all inmate deaths, said the Prison Service was too heavy-handed in its treatment of many seriously ill and dying inmates. “There is, inevitably, a balance to be struck between decency and security. However our investigations have shown that the correct balance is not consistently being achieved. Too often an overly risk-averse approach is taken when frail, immobile or even unconscious prisoners remain restrained,” he said.
In another case highlighted in the Learning Lessons Bulletin, a bed-ridden prisoner in his 70s had restraints reapplied while he was cared for in a hospice, despite an earlier order to remove them.
In the third example, a category A prisoner serving a life sentence since 1999, and who was considered a significant escape risk, was shackled for four days while in a medically-induced coma, following a medical procedure after being diagnosed with terminal cancer. He had previously been escorted by three guards and made to wear double shackles while he was transported.
Campaign groups said ministers must act urgently to put an end to the use of unnecessary restraints while patients are undergoing treatment or travelling to and from hospital.
Prison Reform Trust director Juliet Lyon said: “No one is talking about luxury or special treatment here but, in the interests of common humanity and decency, justice and health ministers must now review the treatment of increasing numbers of elderly people and those dying in prison.”
Andrew Neilson, director of campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform said: “Some of the cases outlined in this bulletin are truly shocking. Prisoners who are seriously ill or dying are among the most vulnerable people in society and it beggars belief that even being in a medically-induced coma cannot excuse you from restraint.”
A Prison Service spokeswoman said: “The use of restraints during escorts must always be proportionate to risk but sometimes is necessary to protect the public and prison officers from violent offenders.”