Use of 'restraint chairs' on inmates raises concerns

The Restraint Chair (E.R.C. Inc.)

The Restraint Chair (E.R.C. Inc.)

Angela Hennessy, Special to QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:18 AM ET

TORONTO -- A restraining device being used in Ontario's jails has sparked concerns about how corrections officials are choosing to deal with mentally-ill inmates.

Called "the restraint chair," inmates are strapped into the device by guards and monitored by video.

Ontario's correctional services ministry maintains the device is needed to prevent "self-injurious" behaviour.

Introduced in September 2007 as part of a five-year pilot project, the chair was used 71 times during this test period in four Ontario institutions.

The restraining device was re-introduced in December 2012 and is now at 13 provincial prisons -- jails which hold prisoners sentenced to terms of up to two years less a day.

Veteran prison nurse Rebecca Smith -- not her real name -- who has worked 25 years in an Ontario jail that recently started using the chair, objects to its use.

"We are warehousing people who are mentally ill and who really don't belong here," she insists. "We honestly don't know what do to with them anymore and I'm terrified by this chair -- it's archaic."


The Restraint Chair (E.R.C. Inc.)

The operating manual for the chair explains that two correctional officers maintain control of the inmate while a third assists and secures the prisoner. All the inmates' personal property must be removed, including glasses, shoes, boots, coats, hats and belts.

Corrections officers are to point the recording device at restrained inmates.

The manual also states that in the case of pregnant inmates, guards must ensure the lap belt is positioned below the abdomen and crossed over the hip area.

"The purpose of the restraint chair is to prevent the inmate from harming themselves and is designed with the protection of the inmate in mind," said Brent Ross, a spokesman for the correctional services ministry.

Ross said the restraining device also reduces injuries to prison staff. Canadian Services of Canada (CSC) data shows that the number of jail staff affected by assaults rose from 310 in 2010 to 558 in 2012.


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