The hanging death of an emotionally troubled teenager in a British jail has been called “appalling and tragic” by a prison oversight official investigating the incident.
According to findings reported by the Guardian, on the day of his death, Osvaldas Pagirys, 18, rang a distress bell in his segregation cell at the Wandsworth prison. When prison staff made their way to the teenager’s cell, 37 minutes had lapsed, and he was found hanging.
In the three months Pagirys spent incarcerated at the largest prison in the UK, he had reportedly been found with a noose around his neck five times.
Inquest jury finds catalogue of failures at Wandsworth Prison including 37 min call bell response led to death of 18 yo Lithuanian Osvaldas Pagirys found hanged in his cell pic.twitter.com/8iNM0H5k9z
— simon israel (@simonisrael) February 20, 2018
Accidental death was the verdict reached on Tuesday, Feb. 20, in the course of an inquest that followed the Lithuanian teenager’s death on 14 November 2016.
He had been arrested for stealing sweets and was held at the Wandsworth facility pending his extradition to Lithuania.
Elizabeth Moody, the acting Prisons and Probations Ombudsman (PPO), called Pagirys a vulnerable teenager, the Independent reported, and said that his poor English language skills exacerbated his difficulties in coping with prison life.
“The circumstances of Mr Pagirys’s death were appalling and tragic,” Moody said, according to the Guardian.
“He was a vulnerable, 18 year-old Lithuanian man who found it hard to cope with prison life and to communicate in English. Staff responded to his increasing levels of distress punitively and he was subject to an impoverished, basic regime during much of his time at Wandsworth.”
The Wandsworth facility had also been censured by prisons inspectors for delays in responding to distress signals from inmates and for having “woefully inadequate” mental health assessments.
Pagirys’s family provided a written statement after the inquest. They said he had received “inadequate” support while incarcerated and said they were “shocked” at the length of time it took to respond to the bell.
“We welcome the jury’s findings that the prison staff did not carry out timely checks on Osvaldas, that there was a delay in responding to the emergency cell bell and that this did contribute to his death,” said the statement, per the Guardian.
“Our hope is that Osvaldas’s death has made the management at HMP Wandsworth and the Ministry of Justice pay close attention to the management of those at risk of self-harm and ensure that there is adequate supervision of staff.”
The teenager was said to have been distressed over the prospect of being extradited to Lithuania, while his entire family lived in the UK.
Moody concluded that the prison staff did not adequately deal with his worsening mental state nor properly manage his suicide risk.