Sunday, July 28, 2013

Our Local Jail Is Still Using Restraint Chair And Isolated Padded Cell For Suicidal Inmates

restraint chair
Through the kind cooperation of the local Sheriff's office, I recently received updated information on the uses of the restraint chair and the isolated padded cell for mentally ill and suicidally depressed inmates at our Harrisonburg-Rockingham Regional Jail.

As a mental health provider and a concerned citizen, I've joined others in urging both the Sheriff and the head of the Community Services Board, which has a contract with the Jail to provide mental health services there, to provide more humane alternatives for emotionally ill inmates.

Here are their numbers for January 1 to June 30, 2013:

Sixteen suicidal inmates were assigned to a regular segregated cell when on suicide watch, as compared to 17 the prior six months. Here an inmate wears a "suicide smock" (paper gown), and is given a blanket and a few approved personal items.

In the alternative isolated padded cell, however, one has no bed or furnishings of any kind, and is denied a mattress, blanket, reading material or any eating utensils. A grate in the floor serves as a commode. This "rubber room" was used 15 times during the last six months for "medical reasons" (meaning a person is at risk for suicide), compared to 10 times the six months prior, and 7 times during the same period a year ago. The inmate is given only a paper suicide smock to wear, and is cut off from human contact except for regular suicide checks. And there is of course no kind of counseling available.

The restraint chair was used a total of 32 times from January 1 to June 30, usually for violent behavior, with the average time spent in this form of confinement being 5.9 hours, and the longest time 9 hours. This compares to 21 times the prior six months and 27 times during the same time period a year ago. Of those included in the most recent numbers provided, 5 were considered suicidal and 6 either extremely intoxicated or otherwise in danger of harming themselves or others. With the latter 11 persons, the average time spent in the chair was 5.1 hours, with the longest time being 12 hours.

One person in this time period was in and out of the chair over a period of 32 hours, which apparently included some bathroom breaks. While in restraint, belts and cuffs immobilize the prisoner's legs, arms, and torso.

I find it impossible to imagine the sense of torture the above forms of confinement might create, especially to depressed, paranoid and/or depressed inmates, so I and other concerned citizens will continue to work with Sheriff Bryan Hutcheson at our local jail, along  with Mr. Lacy Whitmore of the Community Services Board, to seek ways of improving mental health services for jail inmates. This could include offering the services of approved local mental health professional volunteers to be on call to work with the jail staff to provide a therapeutic presence for a troubled inmate as needed.

Your comments and concerns are welcome.

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