Moving Away From Hardware: The JDAI Standards on Fixed Restaints

Published On: February 1, 2009


This is the first in a series of papers on conditions of confinement issues for the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI), to be written by the Youth Law Center and Center for Children’s Law and Policy.  Both organizations provide technical assistance to JDAI sites on assessing and improving conditions in their local detention centers.  The goal of this series is to educate JDAI facility self-assessment teams, and to assist in shaping professional practice for facility staff and administrators, officials with the responsibility for developing state standards, and colleagues in organizations that promulgate juvenile institutional standards.

The standards developed for use in the Detention Facility Self-Assessment process were developed by attorneys with a long history of involvement in institutional litigation, development of state and federal legal standards, and training on institutional conditions.  The standards also incorporate input from national experts, and from JDAI site personnel.  Our goal in developing the standards was to embody constitutionally required protections, state and federal statutory law, professional standards, and best practices.  We addressed issues that, in our experience, have resulted in litigation or harm to youth or staff.  And because we knew that there would be people involved in the assessment process who have limited background in facility operations, we also decided to provide specific guidance in areas that are often problematic. 

This paper discusses one such area.  The use of fixed restraints violates constitutional due process standards, accepted standards of professional practice, and core JDAI values.   The use of such restraints may result in harm to youth and/or staff and is likely to result in litigation and negative public attention.  In a field that is generally working to reduce the unnecessary use force and mechanical restraint devices, fixed restraints represent an extreme that must be moved out of the continuum.

“Fixed restraint,” as used in this paper, refers to the attaching of a child’s hands, feet or other body parts to a fixed object such as a bed, chair or bolt in the floor or wall.  The central feature of such restraint is that facility staff attach the person to the fixture.  While our experience is that not many JDAI sites employ fixed restraints, a few do.  Also, sites that do not currently use fixed restraints may be curious about them, given a growing vendor-driven campaign to sell hardware such as restraint chairs, enthusiastically promoted as “safe” and “humane.”   The JDAI facility assessment standards prohibit the use of such devices in juvenile detention, and this paper explains why.  It provides background on prevalence of use, pertinent legal standards, observations on actual use and rationales for use, and finally, a section on how to move away from using fixed restraints. 

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