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Taylor v. Barkes

Justia Summary

Barkes was arrested in 2004, for violating probation, and taken to a Wilmington Delaware Correctional Institution. During intake, a nurse who worked for the contractor providing healthcare at the Institution conducted a suicide screening, based on a model form developed by the National Commission on Correctional Health Care in 1997. Barkes disclosed that he had a history of psychiatric treatment and was on medication and that he had attempted suicide in 2003, but stated that he was not currently thinking about killing himself. Because only two risk factors were apparent, the nurse gave Barkes a “routine” referral to mental health services and did not initiate special suicide prevention measures. Barkes was placed in a cell by himself. He called his wife and told her that he was going to kill himself; she did not inform the Institution of this call. The next morning, correctional officers observed Barkes behaving normally at 10:45, 10:50, and 11:00 a.m. At 11:35 a.m., an officer discovered that Barkes had hanged himself with a sheet. His wife sued officials, alleging violation of Barkes’s constitutional right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment, by failing to supervise and monitor the private contractor. The Third Circuit held that it was clearly established that an incarcerated individual had an Eighth Amendment “right to the proper implementation of adequate suicide prevention protocols” and that there were material factual disputes. There was evidence that the screening process did not comply with NCCHC’s latest standards, as required by contract. The Supreme Court unanimously reversed, finding that the officials were entitled to qualified immunity. No Supreme Court precedent establishes a right to proper implementation of adequate suicide prevention protocols; appellate authority in 2004 suggested that such a right did not exist. Even if the Institution’s suicide screening and prevention measures had the alleged shortcomings, no precedent would have made clear to the officials that they were overseeing a system that violated the Constitution.

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