New York Daily News: NYC Jail Brass Claims Chaining Inmates To Desks Makes Them Feel Safer At Class

At a Board of Correction meeting yesterday, Sarah Kerr from The Legal Aid Society’s Prisoner Rights Project, delivered sharp criticism regarding the Department of Correction’s current practice of shackling inmates to desks as a replacement for solitary confinement.

New York Daily News
NYC jail brass claims chaining inmates to desks makes them feel safer at class
By Sarah Ryley & Reuven Blau
February 14, 2017

City jail officials on Tuesday defended their controversial practice of shackling violent inmates to desks as a replacement for solitary confinement, saying it makes prisoners feel safer and more willing to attend classes.

Winette Saunders, head of the Correction Department’s youth programing, said the desks, which have ankle restraints but allow free movement of the arms, have increased requests for schooling in part because inmates know they won’t get attacked.

“They feel more comfortable knowing that everyone is in restraints,” Saunders testified at a Board of Correction hearing.

The oversight panel approved the department’s request for a six-month extension, allowing it to continue placing inmates ages 18 to 21 in the Enhanced Supervision Housing unit.

Correction officials started phasing out the use of solitary confinement for young inmates three years ago as part of a broader set of reforms. The restraint desks were installed late last year to allow inmates seven to 10 hours outside their cells for schooling and other activities — while preventing bloody brawls.

In solitary, inmates could only leave their cells for an hour a day.

Currently, 33 young adults are housed in the enhanced-supervision unit. Roughly 44% attend classes, compared with 33% in the general population, Saunders said.

“When I first heard about these leg restraints at our last board meeting, I was stunned. I was startled. I was deeply disturbed,” board member Jennifer Austin said at the hearing. “What I grew to understand is that safety is a real issue.”

Austin voted for the extension, saying it’s the best way “we can ensure that they have the opportunity to get educated, while doing no harm.”

Board member Robert Cohen, the lone dissenting vote, expressed concern that young inmates could get stuck for periods of longer than 45 days chained to the draconian-looking desks while outside their cells.

“People were told they would never get out of it,” he said of conversations with inmates during a recent visit. The classes were held in the noisy dayroom, making it difficult to concentrate, he added.

The department has purchased 38 desks, which cost $1,700 each. Similar desks are being used by at least 36 jurisdictions throughout the country, officials said.

Critics called them humiliating and countertherapeutic.

“You are normalizing traumatizing them again,” said Sarah Kerr, an attorney with the Prisoners’ Rights Project of the Legal Aid Society.