When the state takes away a person's liberty, it
assumes full responsibility for protecting their human rights.
The most fundamental of these is the right to life. Each year,
however, many people die in custody. This report examines the
causes of deaths in custody, and considers what may be done to
prevent these deaths, and to better protect the right to life,
and other human rights, of vulnerable people held in the custody
of the state.
The report begins by considering the human rights
standards which apply. Article 2 of the European Convention on
Human Rights guarantees the right to life and places duties on
the state to take steps to prevent deaths of people in detention,
and to establish independent investigations into deaths in custody.
The freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment also protects
detained people from violence or serious neglect. These rights
must be guaranteed, not through excessive control, but in the
context of a system which also respects rights to privacy, personal
identity and physical integrity.
The report assesses the scale of the problem, and
the numbers of people dying in each form of state detention. It
looks at the wider system in which these deaths occur, and concludes
that measures to reduce deaths in custody are being implemented
within a system where there are many acutely vulnerable people
detained, especially in prison, who simply should not be there.
Overcrowding in the prison system further hampers efforts to reduce
deaths in custody. The principal reason for the increase in the
prison population is sentencing practice, and the report considers
the availability and recourse to alternatives to prison for vulnerable
offenders, in light of the Article 2 right to life.
In the long-term, increased resources and a reduction
in the use of imprisonment is needed to address the problem of
deaths in custody. However, significant improvements can be made
within the context of the present system. The report considers
risk assessment of detainees, especially on admission to custody.
It also assesses the provision of physical and mental healthcare
in detention, and the human rights implications of inadequate
healthcare. The report stresses the importance of maintaining
a standard of healthcare equivalent to that available in the community.
The provision of adequate treatment for drug and alcohol addiction
in detention is essential in order to protect the rights to life
and to freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment. The report
also raises concerns about the detention of mentally ill people
in inappropriate forms of detention, whether in prison, in police
cells, or in immigration removal centres.
Although deaths in custody from the use of control
and restraint are relatively rare, they are a cause for serious
concern. The report examines policy and practice in the use of
physical restraint in all forms of custody, and its compliance
with human rights standards. It also examines the use of seclusion
in Mental Health Act detention, in light of patients' human rights.
Training of those responsible for the safety of detainees
is vital if deaths in custody are to be effectively prevented.
Adequate levels of staffing are also a prerequisite of a safe
custodial environment. The report makes recommendations on training
of police custody officers, and on the training in control and
restraint in all forms of detention.
Finally, the report considers how the state responds
following a death in custody. The state has a duty, under Article
2 ECHR, to provide a thorough and independent investigation into
each death in custody. This independent inquiry must allow for
the full participation of the family of the person who has died,
and the report emphasises the need to ensure that families are
informed, supported and involved immediately following a death,
and at all stages of the investigation. The report assesses recent
changes in the inquest system, new mechanisms designed to allow
for greater independence in the investigation of deaths in police
and prison custody, and the reasons for the low rate of prosecutions
following deaths in custody.
The report concludes by recommending the establishment
of a cross-departmental expert task-force on deaths in custody,
supported by human rights expertise, with the functions of: sharing
information on good practice and developing guidelines in relation
to the prevention of deaths in custody; reviewing the systems
for conducting investigations into deaths in custody; developing
good practice standards on training; reviewing recommendations
from coroners, public inquiries and research and monitoring progress
in their implementation; collecting and publishing information
on deaths in custody; and commissioning research and making recommendations