Use of Force (Part Three)

After taking a look over the last two days at what happens before and after force is used against a prisoner, today I will examine what happens afterwards and how the theory matches up with reality.

Once a prisoner has been restrained and moved back to their own cell, to a cell in segregation, or to a special cell (which is usually a cell without any furniture), it may be necessary to apply mechanical restraints (i.e. a body belt with metal cuffs). This may only be used to prevent a prisoner harming themselves or someone else or damaging property when it is absolutely necessary. They cannot be used on anyone under the age of 17, cannot be used as a punishment and must be removed as soon as the original justification for their use has ceased or if they are suffering signs of medical distress. Whilst a prisoner is in mechanical restraints they must be given drinks of water at regular intervals.

Prisoners may also be deprived of their clothes if it is essential to prevent harm or health hazards but they must be given protective clothing in replacement and must have their clothes returned to them at the earliest opportunity. All use of special cells, mechanical restraints, and deprivation of clothing must be authorised by the governor. In such situations the prisoner must he seen by a doctor as soon as possible. If it is necessary to maintain the prisoner in a special cell or in mechanical restraint for over 24 hours the independent monitoring board must give written authority. Any use of these measures must be recorded and monitored.

Once a prisoner has been relocated it is the job of the supervising officer to ensure that the prisoner is observed until seen by a nurse or doctor, consider taking photographs of any injuries to the prisoner, ensure staff receive any necessary medical treatment, debrief staff, ensure all staff involved have independently completed a use of force record form and collect them, complete such a form in the role of supervisor, pass the forms for storage, and where a prisoner is a self harm risk, ensure staff are aware of the incident.

Healthcare staff must examine the prisoner and complete a form detailing the presence or absence of any injuries.

The use of force record forms must include the circumstances that led to the force, the type of force used, and the reasons why, including any protective techniques, use of batons, planned and unplanned control and restraint and any other force applied.

The debrief of staff should not take place until after they have completed their use of force record forms and should cover why the force was used, what attempts were made at de-escalation, and what alternatives could have been employed. Any concerns should be followed up by the supervisor.

The prisoner should then be debriefed to explain why the force was used on them and, if the prisoner is willing, to discuss the matter. Prisoners who are repeatedly subjected to force should be put on a behaviour management plan.

There must also be a system for monitoring use of force in each establishment and this will be further monitored by prison service headquarters.

But all of that is all just theory. In reality very little happens like that. I have written before that I have been subjected to use of force three times over the years, two of which were assaults. Here is my experience:

The first time I had force used on me was in a juvenile prison. Another prisoner had run up and hit me in the back of the head. I stood up and raised my hands to shield my head from blows. I did not hit back. But I was immediately tackled to the ground by an officer and had my arm wrenched up behind my back. I did not resist and when all staff realised this I was released and escorted back to my cell. Granted, there was no opportunity for the officer to use de-escalation or diffusion techniques, but was the force legal? I would say not. I was not striking out, this could be seen, so the force was neither reasonable or necessary. On that basis the force used was more than that necessary and was not proportionate. The force was therefore unlawful. After the incident I was not seen by a nurse or doctor, and I received no debrief.

The second time was at Frankland. I admit I was disrespectful to an officer, but I certainly wasn’t aggressive or threatening. He, on the other hand, was both aggressive and threatening. In fact, he directly threatened me with a baton raised ready to strike. Not only did he not try to de-escalate the situation, be actually deliberately escalated it. When I tried to walk away he assaulted me. The force he used was not reasonable, necessary, proportionate, or lawful. He never offered an explanation of why he chose to draw his baton and use what he claimed were personal safety techniques (pushing me backwards as I tried to leave the area?) instead of calling for help, pressing an alarm, or moving away to a place he felt safe. I received no debrief, but I did see a member of healthcare. However, this was not a nurse or doctor as required but a ‘medical officer’ (i.e. an officer trained in the medical basics), and this was not done until the following day.

The third time was here at Wakefield. It was (or should have been) a planned intervention, with three officers entering my cell to search and then relocate me so that the cell could be searched too. Once the search was complete one of the officers became verbally abusive and before I had time to respond he jumped on me, assisted by his colleagues, one of which was the supervising officer. Control and restraint was used but not exclusively. I did not resist but yet not only were the holds and locks not relaxed, I was actually struck in the face whilst under restraint. I was relocated, still under restraint, and then despite having already been searched, I was stripped naked in full view of female staff members and left lying on the concrete floor. Again, the officers did not attempt to de-escalate or diffuse the situation, they created the situation. The force used was not reasonable, necessary, proportionate, or lawful, and there was certainly no justification for using strikes or subjecting me to a second strip search whilst under restraint. Since it was a planned intervention in an enclosed area with no CCTV, use of a video camera should have been considered, but wasn’t. No consideration of my psychological condition was made and I never saw any authorisation from a governor for depriving me of my clothes. I was seen briefly by a nurse who simply asked if I was ok. I replied that I was ok physically (indicating that I was not ok psychologically) and received no further treatment. My debrief consisted of an officer coming to my door and grinning whilst saying “We did that because you hit one of our officers”. This false allegation would later be adapted to claim that it was actually a head butt. It was neither. The only physical contact I had with the officer was the contact he made with me whilst punching and restraining me.

I have never had lawful force used against me for one simple reason: I have never given anyone a valid reason to use force against me. There are many people who do give staff a reason, and often situations are either successfully diffused by staff concerned or force is used appropriately. But there are some staff who are prepared to use force inappropriately. The theory set out by the Prison Service Order is there for a reason and it is great because it does give those officers who do their jobs correctly the guidance that protects both prisoners and themselves from harm. But theory doesn’t stop renegades.

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8 thoughts on “Use of Force (Part Three)

    • I’m glad you found this helpful. Also, if anyone would ever like to specifically read about a certain set of rules or areas of prisons or the justice system, I’d be happy to receive requests.

    • As I understand it, Prison rule 46 refers to the management of prisoners in Close Supervision Centres. I have passed through the one here a few times but I’ve never been located there myself so my experience is limited. However I will certainly do a little research and I’ll post on this subject as soon as possible.
      Thanks for the suggestion. Cheers.

    • PSI 58/2011 is about physical education in prisons. It is the Prison Service Instruction which sets out the general gym provision for prisoners, including everything from what the aims of physical education are to how it must be supervised and by who. I will be writing about this PSI in more detail in the next month or so, but if you have any particular questions about it, please feel free to ask.

    • Sorry, which PSI are you referring to? If it is the Physical Education PSI, my understanding is that all PSIs are given a date from which they are valid, and a date upon which they are due to expire, but that they remain valid unless or until they are updated or replaced by a further order or instruction. Since I am not aware of any replacement for the Physical Education PSI, I believe it is still valid and in force. However, if my info is incorrect or out of date I’d be very grateful if you could let me know as I wouldn’t want to mislead people. Thanks K.

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