by Countable | 7.28.17
While most of us were focused on healthcare, last week the Office of Management and Budget quietly published the Trump administration’s Unified Agenda of Federal Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions, which outlines the administration’s regulatory goals and expected actions in the coming year. Buried in the exhaustive list of potential rule changes is one by the Bureau of Prisons calling for the increased use of physical restraints on inmates in federal correctional facilities.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons is a law enforcement agency responsible for the administration of all federal prisons, which house inmates convicted of violating federal law. They also house inmates who have committed felonies in Washington, D.C.
The proposed rule from the Bureau reads:
"the Bureau of Prisons (Bureau) proposes to amend its regulation on the use of force and application of restraints on inmates to permit the use of restraint equipment or devices to secure an inmate to a fixed object to facilitate participation in education, treatment, recreation, or religious programs."
The effort seems connected to two issues -- the desire to reduce the use of solitary confinement and address reduced staffing numbers as a result of budget cuts.
Concerns about the overuse of solitary confinement has long been an issue with prisoner right’s activists, but it catapulted into the mainstream following the suicide of Kalief Browder. In a detailed article the New Yorker explained the tragedy surrounding the incarceration of the young New Yorker:
"[Browder] spent three years on Rikers Island without being convicted of a crime. He had been arrested in the spring of 2010, at age sixteen, for a robbery he insisted he had not committed. Then he spent more than one thousand days on Rikers waiting for a trial that never happened. During that time, he endured about two years in solitary confinement, where he attempted to end his life several times.”
Browder also suffered repeated assaults at the hands of guards and other inmates. After his release he continued to suffer from resulting mental health issues. On June 6, 2015, he took his own life. He was 22 years old.
Browder’s story and subsequent death sparked outrage in New York, as well as catching the attention of federal officials. Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-MI) and Rep. Sheila Lee (D-TX) introduced H.R. 3155, The Effective and Humane Treatment of Youth Act of 2015 or Kalief's Law, named in honor of Browder. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy referenced Browder’s experience in an opinion on an unrelated case, Davis v. Ayala (2015). And in January 2016, President Barack Obama signed an executive order banning the use of solitary confinement on juvenile inmates in the federal prison system. He also penned an op-ed in the Washington Post explaining the rationale and research behind the order. He encouraged state and local correctional facilities to take similar steps.
Since then some state and local facilities have taken steps to reduce the use of solitary confinement, notable among them Rikers Island, where Browder was incarcerated. The steps have included the expansion of the use of restraints as being proposed by the Bureau. Propublica recently published a story about the New York City Board of Corrections report on the change. They described the use of "restraint desks", considered a more “humane alternative” to solitary confinement:
"The school-like desks, outfitted with chains and locks, are located in specialized cell blocks... inmates who have committed violent infractions — caused injury to another inmate or guard, or attempted to stab or slash someone in jail — can leave their cells for a minimum of seven hours every day, but must be locked to the desks for much of that time. The inmates chained to desks are surrounded by inmates in cells who yell and taunt them.”
The report noted that the desks are also used in other jurisdictions, but all limit restraint to no more than two hours at a time.
The federal rule currently being considered seems to try and address this concern, though it does not go as far as stipulating specific time constraints:
"Restraints may be used in this manner to facilitate programming only while under staff supervision, only for as long as necessary to participate in the activity, and only if consistent with the inmate’s medical and mental health conditions."
Critics of the rule, however, are concerned that it will be used to justify restraint of inmates who do not need to be restrained. The Hill interviewed David Fathi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) National Prison Project, who discussed the pros and cons of the practice:
"If this means prisoners who would otherwise be locked in their cell for 23, 24 hours a day get to come out and get meaningful interaction with other humans, that’s a positive, but there’s always a concern in a prison setting that restraints will be overly or improperly used or used on people who don’t need to be restrained."
He also raised concerns about the proposed rule classifying the use of restraints as not being a "use of force," which require extensive documentation and justifications:
"In prisons, he said, any time staff uses force there’s extensive documentation required to provide accountability and transparency in how it’s being used. If the use of restraints is not considered force...that could lead to little to no documentation or oversight.”
Dr. Homer Venters, the former chief medical officer for the New York City jail system and currently the director of programming at Physicians for Human Rights, says he fought against the use of the desks during his tenure. Venters told The Hill they fly in the face of rehabilitation and humane treatment:
"Whatever the type of treatment that’s being delivered, the first prerequisite is to engage with the patient, and patients cannot engage in a meaningful way when they are chained up like an animal."
When questioned about the proposed rule the Bureau insisted to The Hill that concerns were premature:
"Further discussion or comments beyond our initial response on the summary language at this stage of the process would be premature as the rule had not even been formally proposed."
What can you do?
Do you support this potential rule, increasing the use of equipment like restraint desks to allow inmates that might otherwise be kept in solitary confinement access to programming? Should the rule be expanded to address human rights concerns, detailing how long inmates may be restrained or requiring thorough documentation of the equipment’s use? Should the Bureau be required to assess the use of this equipment in state and local settings before instituting its use in federal correctional facilities?
Use the Take Action button to tell your reps what you think!
— Asha Sanaker
(Photo Credit: Wikimedia / Creative Commons)
Written by Countable
I'm confused about how this is more humane. This is literally the difference between keeping your pet in the kennel or allowing him to roam the yard while chained to his dog house. Neither is liberating. Neither is doing the job of rehabilitating the inmate. A true prison reform is where we consider the reality of no prisons. No cages since we are self-proclaimed humans and different from other animals. There was a time when life without slavery was inconceivable and now there is a time for considering a life without the outdated punishment of prisons.
Solitary confinement is inhumane and un-American. This isn't the Ottoman Empire, you don't lose a hand when you steal an apple. This is the USA, and cruel and unusual punishment is banned by our Constitution. Solitary confinement is used in the US on criminals, violent and nonviolent, juvenile and adult. It causes hallucinations, panic, hypertension, dizziness, organ failure, and suicide -- insanity, in other words. I'd say that qualifies as cruel. Of the few Western countries that still allow it, it's used on 40-70 people per year. In the US, 100,000 people are in solitary, in addition to hundreds of thousands more on whom it's used punitively. I'd say that qualifies as unusual.
Let's see if I understand this right. It advocates the use of restraints in a public portion of the prison so as to promote socialization. Because prisoners restrained are magically immune to assaults by other prisoners and officers. This is another case of: What could possibly go wrong?!
I would like the Federal Bureau of Prisons to investigate FOR PROFIT PRISONS 🛑These corporation are NOT SAVING TAXPAYERS MONEY❗️and they are WORKING TO CHANGE MORE POLICIES TO FILL QUOTAS not to protect people but to protect their bottom line. 📛 They are so wealthy that they write their own laws and push them through congress.
I have grave concerns this could be abused. Which is better having freedom of movement by yourself, or being chained to the wall in a room filled with others chained to a wall. More information and vigorous debate are needed. Reform is needed, not for budget reasons. I'd like to save money by addressing reasons they are there.
This is very confusing. So instead of solitary confinement the prison is going to restrain someone to a desk or other non moving object so the other inmates can yell at them and taunt them? That sounds just as cruel as solitary confinement. I disagree with solitary confinement because to isolate anyone for a long period of time will affect their mind. But to chain someone for hours at a time sounds just as bad. I agree that the prisoner needs further punishment if they are not following the rules and/or a danger but there has to be something better. Aren't there any doctor's giving their input into this? So I am against solitary confinement but I think more research needs to done to come up with a better plan.
Solitary confinement is torture and should never be allowed in our prisons. We shouldn't be surprised at recidivism rates if we're treating prisoners worse than I'd ever treat an animal. I don't think that restraints are a good answer to the problem, although it's probably a bit of an improvement to solidarity confinement. Expecting prisoners to participate in "education, treatment, recreation, or religious programs" while chained to a desk sounds like a bad joke. If we'd stop imprisoning people for minor, non-violent crimes there would be more resources to improve our prisons. We need to focus less on punishment and more on rehabilitation for the sake of the prisoners and also for the health of our country. Ending private prisons is a step in the right direction.
Republicans want to chain people. Like a dog. There is something deeply wrong with people who think that this is okay. Prisons at their best should be about rehabilitation and at their worst about confinement for public safety. At no time should they be about punishment, vengeance, and torture.
Stop privatizing prisons. Use of restraints will be easily abused. A budget issue masking as a humane treatment issue. More people working with people: not dehumanizing.
This is insane. People will die. There is no reason this should be allowed.
No . We cannot even do this in hospitals ,nursing home , schools .. etc .. basic violation of human rights and one which requires intense staffing. Humans .. not animals .. you treat people like animals then I expect they will act out like animals.
Oh my God!!! No!!! Restraints for prisoners? Should we just go back to calling back people slaves then? Please stop this.
Morally, this is the simple logic of two wrongs make a right. The inhumane solitary confinement is solved by the inhumane public physical restraint. Welcome to the good old days of the public stockade. If only this decision wasnt just about money
You wouldn't have a problem with under-funded and under-staffed prisons if you would do away with the rediculous and ineffective war on drugs.
Solitary confinement should be abolished for gen pop of prisons with exception of an inmate who may imminently harm himself or others.
No! Rehabilitation not restraint. We are supposed to be a civilized society
THIS IS WHAT I HAVE TO THINK AND SAY ABOUT THIS !!!! IT IS NOTHING BUT ABJECT UNADULTERATED BARBARISM, PERPETRATED BY, SIMPLE MINDED BARBARIANS, THAT ARE WHAT WE HAVE RUNNING OUR PENAL INSTITUTIONS AND OUR CONGRESS !!!!!!! UNSPEAKABLE, HORROR !!! CONGRESS WORKS LIKE FEINDS, TO TAKE AWAY HEALTH CARE TO MILLIONS OF PEOPLE, THAT A LARGE PERCENTAGE OF THEM WOULD OUT RIGHT DIE, FROM LACK OF CARE, AND NOW THEY WANT TO SHACKLE INMATES TO A FIXED OBJECT, FOR HOW MANY YEARS, TO LIVE IN THEIR OWN EXCREMENT, AND FEED THEM ONLY WHEN THEY HAVE EXTRA ROAD KILL ????? AND WHY IS THAT ????? BECAUSE THE CONGRESS PEOPLE WANT TO GIVE TAX BREAKS TO THE RICHEST 400 PEOPLE IN THE WORLD, SO WE DON'T HAVE THE MONEY TO HIRE AND TRAIN PERSONNEL TO POLICE OUR PENAL INSTITUTIONS PROPERLY, OF COURSE !!!!!! BARBARIANS !!!! LEGALIZING HORRID TORTUROUS CRIMINAL BEHAVIOR BY POLICE AND PRISON GUARDS ON THE PUBLIC AT LARGE, AND INMATES, THAT ARE GUILTY OR NOT, AND HAVE HAD NO TRIAL AT ALL !!!!!! CONFISCATING THE PUBLICS ASSETS BECAUSE THEY ARE SUSPECTS !!!!!!! IT IS THE HORRENDOUS DISREGARD AND NEGLIGENCE OF THEIR RESPONSIBILITY TO GOVERN !!!!! SHORT SIGHTED, SELF GRATIFYING, SIMPLE MINDED BARBARIANS !!!!!!!! THATS WHAT WE HAVE FOR LEADERS IN THIS COUNTRY !!!!!!! PHAA !!!!!!
Why are we cutting funds for prisons and increasing military budget? Oh, because weapons manufacturers stand to make ridiculous amounts of money so they have a voice in our government while prisoners are poor and often minorities so they are forgotten. I am against the use of solitary confinement and before another horrific excessive use of force is legalized there should be very specific and accountable regulations on its use: length of time, specific reasons for such extreme measure, who can this apply to (age etc), psychological diagnosis, what is the prison setting (security level) and who makes the decision to implement the punishment.
Why? Because it's more humane? The crime, that they committed, wasn't humane. So HELL NO! Criminals, violent or not, disobeyed the law. They need to pay a price for their actions. That's why we have lawmakers. Period!
I DO NOT stand for this... it's cruel and unusual punishment, and worse, inhumane. It is NOT a suitable alternative to solitary confinement, and is extremely detrimental to the mental health of our prisoners-- who are people just like us too. And when we have prisoners-- WHO ARE ALREADY IN A POOR SITUATION--ABUSE them and deteriorate their mental health, use MORE PHYSICAL RESTRAINTS on them, we expect them not to fight back?? This'll increase violence in prisons-- and decrease the rehabilitation we supposedly aim for.