Friday, February 8, 2013

Local Prison Reform: Still a Work in Progress?

A past form of restraint
A number of mental health professionals and other concerned citizens have expressed concern over the past year about the frequency with which the restraint chair and the isolated padded cell are used for suicidally depressed and mentally ill inmates at our local jail, as described in my November 8, 2012 blog. In that post I detailed the number of times and the circumstances these were used in the period from January 1 to June 30, 2012.

We recently asked for, and kindly received, an update from Sheriff Hutcheson’s office about the uses of the restraint chair and padded isolation cell from July 1 to December 31, 2012.

A current form of restraint

This latest report showed there were 6 cases of mentally ill persons (usually suicidal) being confined to the restraint chair during that time, an average of one per month, as compared to a three times per per month average in the first half of the year. While in restraint, belts and cuffs have the prisoner's legs, arms, and torso immobilized.

Five other inmates were detained in the chair for other miscellaneous reasons (being intoxicated, incorrigible, etc.). The average time someone spent in the chair for medical reasons (mentally ill and deemed suicidal) and in this “other” category combined was 4.8 hours, the shortest time being 2 hours and the longest 18 hours.

This total of 11 persons in the second half of the year compares favorably to a total of 27 in the first half, although the average length of stay for the 11 was longer (no doubt a skewed number because one of the 11 was thus detained for 18 hours). Another slight  improvement, one a number of concerned citizens and mental health professionals have recommended, was that an additional 17 suicidal inmates were simply assigned to a regular segregated cell and put on suicide watch, as compared to 13 in the first half of the year.

The restraint chair was used an additional 21 times for violent behavior, which many of us see as appropriate when all other measures at subduing an inmate fail (such as someone coming off a bad drug induced high, for example). The average time that a violent person spent in the chair was 5.1 hours, compared to six hours in the previous time period.

As to the dreaded isolated padded cell, or “rubber room”, there were 10 cases of it being used for “medical reasons” (inmates deemed suicidal) during this past six-month period, compared to 7 in the first half of 2012. Here the inmate is stripped, given a paper gown to wear, has no mattress, blanket, reading material or eating utensils, and has to use a hole in the floor for a commode. No numbers were provided as to the average length of time people were detained under these conditions.

We look forward to continuing to work with Sheriff Bryan Hutcheson and Steve Shortell at our local jail and with Mr. Lacy Whitmore of the Community Services Board to improve mental health services for our local inmates. Please let me know if you have questions or concerns.

For other posts on this issue check this link.
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