Protecting Youth in Prisons From Violence and Abuse

February 7, 2010

By Sue Burrell and Corene Kendrick  |  New York Times  —  

To the Editor:

Nicholas D. Kristof compares the rape of children in juvenile justice facilities to the abuses in Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib, China or North Korea. Unfortunately, another barbaric practice is common in our nation’s juvenile correctional facilities — the use of hardware and fixed restraints like “restraint chairs” to punish children.

Over the past two decades overuse of the chairs, originally designed for limited purposes to control psychotic persons in mental institutions, has grown in the nation’s juvenile correctional facilities. A 1999 General Accounting Office study found that the use of restraints has resulted in asphyxiation, strangulation, cardiac arrest, choking and aspiration, and that the risk of death is higher for children.

As the world gave a collective cry of “torture device” when pictures of Abu Ghraib’s restraint chairs were shown, all we could think was that we had recently seen an identical device on a visit to a juvenile hall.

Sue Burrell
Corene Kendrick
San Francisco, Jan. 28, 2010

The writers are staff attorneys with the Youth Law Center. Ms. Burrell is the author of “Moving Away From Hardware,” a report on the use of fixed restraints in juvenile correction facilities.