JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Humane restraint - that's the idea behind chairs designed to subdue violent or disruptive inmates without injury.
They often work as intended. But they are not without risk.
A review of deaths at county jails around the country found more than three dozen restraint chair deaths since the chairs were introduced in the late '90s. Restraint Chair Jail Deaths
Sean Levert, son of O'Jays singer Eddie Levert, died after being denied his psychiatric meds. In Fort Myers, 62-year-old Nick Christie who suffered from both depression and emphysema, died in the chair after being doused with pepper spray.
Even when nobody dies, the chairs have been controversial. Lisa Tanner, daughter of former state attorney John Tanner, made headlines when a disturbing restraint video that was released.
The chairs have been linked to pulmonary embolism, a potentially fatal blood clot that can be caused by physical trauma followed by immobility -- the very circumstance in which the chairs are typically used.
Amnesty International has lobbied to have them outlawed. And they are no longer used by the Florida State Prison System or the Department of Juvenile Justice. They are also opposed by mental health advocates, who contend they put undue stress on the mentally ill, and may actually provoke a unique set of physiological responses that could hasten death.
Given the fact that jails and prisons are the leading providers of mental health care in the country - and, according to jail estimates, some 80 percent of Duval County inmates have some kind of mental health issue – the chairs are all but certain to be used on inm
ates with mental illness. But while they have been phased out by the Florida State Prison System and the Department of Juvenile Justice, they are still widely used in Florida's county jails.
"Although you will find places that use this restraint chair, they would make up a minority of facilities," says Dr. Scott Allen, a former prison medical director and Professor of Medicine at University of California, Riverside. "That fact alone gives you some clue. Good ideas catch on. This one comes with a troubled past."