Use Of Restraint Devices To Control Prisoners

Law enforcement or jail officials sometimes use restraint devices to control prisoners.  Restraint devices can include chairs and beds with straps to immobilize the prisoner.  The use of a restraint device, if done improperly or for improper reasons, can cause personal injuries or wrongful death and lead to civil liability for the officials and facility.

Restraint devices can cause harm or death to the prisoner.   But even when they restraint devices don’t lead to such serious results, civil liability can still be imposed for the physical pain or discomfort caused by the restraint device and the resulting mental fear of being held down.

Iowa law provides only three situations when four- and fivepoint restraints can be used: When the inmate is (1) a threat to self, (2) a threat to others, or (3) a jeopardy to security.  Restraint devices are not proper when only minor damage to a cell has occurred, the inmate posed no other threat to jail staff other than verbal abuse, or when the immediate threat to safety or security had already passed.  Iowa law states that restraints can only be used for the amount of time necessary to alleviate the condition causing the restraint.

Restraint devices must only be used when the inmate is an immediate and ongoing threat to themselves or others, or is jeopardizing jail security.  Restraint devices cannot be used merely to punish a prisoner.

Iowa law requires 15-minute personal visual observation of the inmate and the restraint application.  That should include an examination of the prisoner’s well-being but also the effect of the restraints on the prisoner.

If you have been subjected to a restraint device while jailed or imprisoned and believe that the use of the device was improper, please feel free to contact me to see whether you have a claim for a civil rights violation.


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