Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Minimal Number of Assaults Attributed to Prison-Issued Lock Cannot Support Claim

The First Circuit Court of Appeals held two Maine prisoners failed to raise a triable issue of substantial risk of assault by a prison-issued padlock.

Maine State prison (MSP) prisoners David Lakin and Gerard Landry suffered serious injury in separate assaults by other prisoners using prison-issued padlocks as weapons. Lakin was assaulted by two or three others in 2010; Landry was assaulted about a year later by another prisoner. Both filed a civil rights action alleging prison officials' failure to take adequate measures to protect prisoners at MSP from padlock assaults denied the Eighth Amendment right against subjection to cruel and unusual punishment. The district court granted defendants summary judgment.

The First Circuit noted that from January 2004 through June 2012 there were at least 372 reported prisoner-on-prisoner assaults at MSP, in which at least 17 involved padlocks as weapons. From 2007 to 2012 MSP experiences a rise in assaults, jumping from 25 in 2007 to 86 in the first nine months of 2012. In general, there were two padlock assaults per year with a peak of 10 in 2010.

The complaints of Lakin and Landry failed to assert any practice or policy on the part of MSP that might account for the rise in padlock assaults in 2010 or connect the overall increase in violence at MSP as an explanatory context to the claims.

MSP issues padlocks to comply with Maine law that requires it to provide prisoners with a reasonable means to secure their property. Prison officials testified the padlocks actually lower the level of violence by reducing theft, which often precipitates prisoner conflict.

There is no policy to take a padlock from a prisoner, even if used as a weapon in an assault. Warden Patricia Barnhart saw no need to remove padlocks because the prisoners are “in a prison where if they want to find a weapon, they will find a weapon.”

Precedent establishes prisoners have a right to be protected from a “substantial” risk of harm, which had been equated to one that is “objectively intolerable.” The First Circuit held the risk described by Lakin and Landry “falls well within the zone of those too insubstantial for an Eighth Amendment claim.”

Considering the absolute number and percentage of violence at MSP, the court finds the annual occurrences of padlock assaults at MSP to be generally low. While that court noted any assault is unacceptable and Lakin and Landry suffered serious harm, “a small number of assaults involving the use of a particular prison-issued item, without more,” cannot sustain a “conclusion that providing the item without restriction” creates a substantial risk of harm violative of the Constitution.

The district court's order was affirmed. See: Lakin v. Barnhart, 758 F.3d 66; 2014 U.S. App. LEXIS 12756 (Case 13-2210; 13-2211).

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login

Related legal cases

Lakin v. Barnhart

Lakin v. Barnhart