A prisoner was discovered dead in his cell at HMP Durham with a drug cocktail in his system.
On September 20, 2020, just 10 days after being brought there on remand, convicted burglar Joseph Andrew Price passed away in his cell.
Post-mortem toxicology tests revealed that the 28-year-old had used methadone, cannabis, diazepam, and pregabalin prior to passing away.
But a pathologist was unable to determine what exactly killed him.
Mr. Price was recalled and placed on remand at the County Durham prison on September 10, 2020, for violating the terms of his licence. He was also accused of stealing with the intent to steal, possessing marijuana, assaulting a police officer, and damaging a police cell. He had previously served several prison terms for burglary and having offensive weapons.
Concerns about Mr. Price’s death were raised in a report by the Prison & Probation Ombudsman (PPO), including how he reportedly obtained drugs.
In the report, which was just released, Acting Prisons and Probation Ombudsman Kimberley Bingham makes the following claims: “At Durham, the availability of illegal drugs has long been a problem. While I am concerned that Mr. Price may have had access to drugs, I am also aware of Durham’s challenges as a busy local prison.
I observe that Durham has a thorough drug strategy and that initiatives to stop the supply of drugs seem to be working. Durham will need to periodically review its drug policy, though.”
Concerns were raised about staff not monitoring Mr. Price when he arrived at Durham under the ACCT procedures for suicide and self-harm. Suicide risk factors that Mr. Price presented were also highlighted.
Monitoring began when ACCT procedures were initiated and ended the day before his death. According to the report, ACCT procedures “ended prematurely.”
Additionally, there were issues with the length of wait times for medical appointments and health screenings, as well as the nighttime CCTV image quality, which prevented investigators from determining whether the roll check was properly conducted on the morning Mr. Price was found dead in his cell.
According to the report, Mr. Price informed the police that he “would set fire to and hang himself in prison” before arriving at HMP Durham with a suicide and self-harm warning form.
He had a history of substance abuse, self-harm, attempted suicide, mental health problems, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and emotionally unstable personality disorder (EUPD).
He was given methadone and medication to treat his drug withdrawal symptoms during his ten days in prison.
Two days prior to his passing, staff members expressed concerns about his well-being and mental health and started monitoring him in accordance with the ACCT suicide and self-harm protocols.
The following day, when it was determined that Mr. Price felt better, staff stopped monitoring the ACCT. Tragically, an officer conducting a routine roll call on September 20 discovered Mr. Price unconscious in his cell.
Staff members responded quickly after the officer radioed a code blue medical emergency. The report also stated that due to the presence of rigour mortis, staff did not attempt to revive Mr. Price.
He was pronounced dead when the paramedics arrived.
Although Mr. Price had a history of substance abuse, Durham staff did not observe any signs of drug use from him, but the report believes that stopping the ACCT procedures after 24 hours was “premature and prevented staff from properly assessing Mr. Price’s risk.”
The report also said: “On Mr. Price’s wing, the nighttime CCTV footage is of very poor quality. Because of this, we were unable to determine whether a roll check had been correctly completed an hour prior to Mr. Price’s death in his cell.”
Since September 2018, fifteen prisoners have passed away at HMP Durham; four have died naturally, eight have committed suicide, and two have died as a result of drugs. Mr. Price was the fifteenth prisoner to pass away.
In September and October of 2018, during the most recent inspection of HMP Durham, inspectors expressed concern about Durham’s safety.
They reported on the high prevalence of illicit drugs and mentioned that five deaths in the previous eight months were thought to have involved illicit drugs.
Seven suicide deaths had occurred since their previous inspection in October 2016, they added.
They were dissatisfied that Durham, which has a maximum capacity of 996 inmates, had not responded to the PPO’s recommendations with “sufficient vigour and urgency.”
In order to assess the progress made in implementing the main recommendations from the 2018 inspection, an Independent Review of Progress was conducted in July 2019.
Inspectors discovered that “reasonable progress had been made in assessing newly arrived prisoners on arrival, but that staff were working under significant stress due to the volume of prisoners, which meant that the process was frequently rushed,” according to the report.
Mr. Price used methadone, cannabis, diazepam, and pregabalin before he passed away, according to post-mortem toxicology tests performed after his death. He had only been given a prescription for methadone.
The post-mortem examination revealed no natural diseases or injuries that could have caused or assisted in Mr. Price’s demise.
According to the pathologist, there was not enough methadone present to normally be expected to result in death.
The pathologist noted that there was no evidence to support the possibility that methadone and diazepam, which both have the effect of slowing breathing, may have contributed to the death.
The toxicology findings showed that Mr. Price had been a frequent cannabis user, and the toxicologist noted that while cannabis-related deaths are uncommon, there is some evidence to suggest that the drug may have negative effects on the heart.
A spokesperson for the HMP Durham prison system responded to the report by saying, “Our thoughts are with Joseph Price’s family and friends.
“We have already put into practise all of the Ombudsman’s recommendations to increase prisoner safety, including better training for staff to recognise suicide and self-harm and more CCTV throughout the facility.”
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