September 14, 2020: Disability Rights New York (DRNY) published a report today outlining the connection between use of restraint chairs and people with mental health histories in New York county jails. DRNY reviewed data from hundreds of incident reports in 2017 and 2018, and conducted in-depth investigations into several incidents from 2016 through 2019. Based on DRNY’s findings, the serious potential for abuse, harm and even death, and consistent with the United Nations Committee Against Torture’s recommendation to ban use of restraint chairs as methods of constraint issued in May 2000, New York State and counties must take immediate steps to ban their use altogether.
DRNY investigated several instances of restraint chair use on people with mental illness, reviewing all clinical and custodial records, including full incident reports. Five case summaries fully explore the association between treatment delays and restraint chair use. People with mental health histories accounted for more than two-thirds of restraint chair use statewide in both 2017 and 2018. DRNY also reviewed data where restraint chairs were used as one element of a multiple use of force—specifically, other restraints, chemical agents, and stun devices. Nearly 56% of the total incidents of restraint chair use on individuals with mental health histories also involved other restraint use.
“New York State must ban the use of restraint chairs. They are frequently used because there is a critical lack of effective mental health treatment for people in jails.” DRNY Exec. Dir. Tim Clune
Despite a 5.4% drop in county jail populations outside New York City, incidents involving the use of a restraint chair increased by 23% from 2017 to 2018. Restraint chair incidents involving people with mental health histories increased at significantly higher rates than for people with no such histories. No statewide standards exist restricting its use in jails. Moreover, restraint chair use in a correctional setting is not subject to federal and state regulations governing restraint practices in inpatient psychiatric settings.