The use of force in penal establishments must be strictly regulated and can only be justified in the following situations:
- Legitimate self-defence: situations in which a member of the prison staff, or a co-detainee or any other person within the establishment is threatened with physical violence.
- Attempted escape: in this case, force may only be used if the attempted escape is in progress, or on the point of being carried out. A hypothetical risk of evasion cannot justify the use of force.
- Refusal to comply with a lawful order: such a refusal can manifest itself actively, that is, by acts of verbal or physical violence towards the prison staff. The refusal may also occur passively, such as the refusal of detainees to leave or to return to their cell.
The use of force includes different methods and techniques, from physical restraint to the use of weapons, lethal or non-lethal. The type of force used must therefore depend on the situation and the prison staff or other people responsible for the maintenance of order must be trained to adapt the type of force used on a case by case basis. There are three main methods of the use of force:
- The physical action of restraining a person, sometimes by several people, in order to immobilise him/her: Immobilisation techniques must be duly authorised and not physically endanger detainees. Even though this method is the least likely to endanger someone’s life, it may only be used for the reasons and within the situations mentioned above (legitimate self-defence; to prevent escape; refusal to comply with a lawful order, and as a last resort).
- The use of non-lethal weapons, such as truncheons, non-lethal ammunition weapons (rubber balls) or electrical discharge weapons: These weapons may only be used where other methods have failed and if the person is showing violent behaviour likely to cause serious injury or the death of a third person. Refusal to comply with an order can never justify recourse to a weapon, lethal or not.
- The use of lethal weapons, such as guns or rifles. Recourse to lethal weapons must be even more strictly regulated than all the other methods: their use must be forbidden within the prison, except when their use is considered totally unavoidable to protect someone’s life. These types of weapons must be limited to surveillance of the external perimeter and staff may only deploy them where there is a risk of serious injury or death or when an escape of a violent nature is actually in progress and no other means can be used.
The principles of legality, necessity and proportionality provide a framework to every aspect of the use of force, including methods, intensity and duration.