- Associated Press - Saturday, April 19, 2014

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - A former prison inmate in Alaska can move forward with his lawsuit claiming the state Department of Corrections failed to protect him from another inmate, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled Friday.

The state’s prison system has a duty to protect the lives and health of inmates in its custody, according to the opinion written by Chief Justice Dana Fabe.

“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,” the opinion read.

Richard Mattox, now 54, was seriously injured by another prisoner in 2007. He said he warned correctional officers of trouble with “cocky, young” inmates in his prison block, the Anchorage Daily News (https://is.gd/F4BbqC) reported.

Mattox sued the state for negligence, but Palmer Superior Court Judge Vanessa White threw out the case in 2011. The judge said Mattox didn’t show that the corrections department had been given notice of a specific threat against him.

The state argued that inmates only have a claim if an injury is serious and prison officials would have to know of an “immediate, identifiable, and specific danger.”

The high court said that bar is too high. Mattox presented enough information to “raise a factual question as to the foreseeability of the attack he suffered,” the justices said.

State lawyers told the newspaper they were disappointed with the decision and are evaluating options, including an appeal.

The state takes steps to protect inmates “but today’s decision unrealistically broadens the scope of what should be considered reasonably foreseeable,” said Susan West, an assistant attorney general who handled the case, in an email to the Daily News on Friday.

“An inmate’s vague, generalized fear that he may be harmed by unidentified inmates is not the sort of specific threat that prison officials can meaningfully respond to,” she wrote.

Mattox said he made multiple requests to two different correctional officers to be transferred to a different prison block.

The Department of Corrections said it has improved procedures since the 2007 incident. Officers now are assigned to the inmate modules.

Mattox, who is seeking unspecified monetary damages, said he wants to ensure that dangers to inmates are addressed.

He told the Daily News: “People are being hurt, and it’s not right.”


Information from: Anchorage (Alaska) Daily News, https://www.adn.com

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