Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Local Jail Still Using The Restraint Chair And Isolated Padded Cell For Some Suicidal Inmates

Is this the best help the HRRJ can offer?
We have seen some progress recently in providing better mental health services for inmates at the Harrisonburg/Rockingham Regional Jail, especially since the Community Services Board, the City Council and the County Board of Supervisors began funding a half-time mental health counselor there in January of this year.

So far, however, this hasn't had the hoped-for effect of substantially reducing the use of the restraint chair and/or the isolated padded cell for so-called "medical reasons" (for someone who is suicidally depressed).

I've just received the following updated information through a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request:

From January 1 through June 30 of this year jail staff used a restraint chair for suicidally depressed persons 24 times. The average time in the chair was 5.2 hours, with the shortest time being 3 hours and the longest 15 hours. While in restraint a person's legs, arms and torso are immobilized by leather belts and cuffs, and sometimes a bag is placed over the inmate's head (to prevent him or her from spitting).

By comparison, this method of restraint for suicidal inmates was used 18 times during the same time period in 2012 and 32 times in 2013.

An equally traumatizing option, the isolated padded cell, was used 8 times for suicidal inmates during the first half of this year. This compares to 7 times during a similar six-month period in 2012 and 15 times in 2013.

Being confined to this so-called "rubber room" is particularly stressful for anyone suffering from a mental illness, in that they are stripped of their clothing, given only a paper gown to wear and have to use a grate in the floor as their commode. They are provided no mattress, blanket, or eating utensils, have no access to reading or writing material, and have no human contact of any kind except for the staff person doing regular suicide checks or sliding their food (minus utensils) through a slot in the door.

A more humane option for suicidal inmates is the use of a regular segregated cell. This was done 21 times this year, and compares to 13 such inmates being placed in "seg" during the first six months of 2012 and 16 in 2013. Here inmates have access to a commode, can wear their regular clothes, have a mattress to lie on, and a copy of the Bible to read.

Some of us have been appealing to the sheriff to have this be the standard response for suicidally depressed individuals, along with providing a trained professional available for some counseling. When or if the CSB's half-time counselor isn't available, some of us have offered to enlist qualified persons to be on call around the clock on a volunteer basis as necessary for this purpose.

As a caring community blessed with ample resources we can surely do better than confining mentally ill people in restraint chairs and isolated padded cells.

You may address your concerns to: 

County Sheriff Bryan Hutceson
Harrisonburg Mayor Chris Jones
County Board of Supervisors Michael Breeden
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