During the first five (5) of my twenty-six years of service in the department it was common practice to use the restraint chair to control violent, self-destructive, or combative inmates. The restraint chair has not been a control method used in my department for several years now. Over the years with lawsuits regarding the use of the restraint chair best practices within jail and prison has changed. Recently there has been a lot of chatter regarding the use of the restraint chair. “Several lawsuits leading to jury findings as well as settlements with respect to the use of restraint chairs in jails have occurred over the last 15 years. Many of these cases involve arguments that the chairs were used in a manner that were contrary to the manufacturer’s warnings or that the subjects were not properly monitored during the restraint.” (Ryan 2006).
My department has updated policies and procedures and implemented new practices to manage those detainees who may be experiencing difficulty and need to be stabilized. Alternatives methods to manage those inmates, whether it be that they are experiencing a mental health crisis, a medical event or simply a behavioral issue has been implemented. Specialized training is provided to staff i.e., Interpersonal Communication Skill, De-escalation Tactics, Suicidal Prevention and Special Management of Inmates. In addition, mental health and medical services are available to the inmates 24-7, and if needed, the inmate will be transported to the local hospital to be evaluated and or treated. If and when it does become necessary to restrain a non-complaint or disruptive inmate, hand, waist, and leg restraints can be used. We can also secure the inmate in a safe room which is paddled to prevent injury to the inmate who are a danger to themselves or others until they calm down and/or be evaluated by medical or mental health. Albeit the restraint chair is still an option to for use, it would have to be under extenuating circumstance and with command staff’s approval. The decision to limit or discontinue the use of the restraint chair was based on best practices and legal liability. The Marshall Project found that the use of restraint chairs in county jails around the United States has been linked to 20 deaths in the past six years. That’s in addition to a 2014 report that uncovered more than three dozen restraint chair deaths in county jails since they started using the chairs in the late 1990s.
A more recent court case regarding the use of the restraint chair in Georgia involved former Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill. “Victor Hill was accused of violating the constitutional rights of seven Clayton County jail inmates by forcing them into restraint chairs for hours at a time with little provocation. Hill told the jury he did it to maintain order in the jail.” A jury found a Hill guilty on six of seven federal abuse charges (11Alive News). For now, my department does not agree with the use of the restraint chair.
During the time in which we did use the restraint chair, we ensured that the chair was used only to restrict movement to prevent danger or harm to the inmate or others, not punishment, that the chair was used according to manufactory recommendations, and the inmate was restrained properly and monitored while in the restrained in the chair.