Detention Monitoring Tool Second edition
Instruments of restraint
Addressing risk factors to prevent torture and ill-treatment
‘Prison staff will on occasion have to use force to control violent prisoners and, exceptionally, may even
need to resort to instruments of physical restraint. These are clearly high risk situations insofar as the
possible ill-treatment of prisoners is concerned, and as such call for specific safeguards.’
(European Committee for the Prevention of Torture)1
1. Definition and context
Measures such as the use of instruments of restraint may
be necessary to provide security and order in a custodial
setting: to protect persons deprived of their liberty from
inter-prisoner violence; for self-defence, to prevent selfharm and suicide; and to prevent escape.
However, instruments of restraint pose a high risk for
torture or other ill-treatment due to their highly intrusive
nature and the risk of causing injury, pain and/or
humiliation, and are often deliberately used as a torture
tool. Some devices have been prohibited or condemned
in general as degrading or painful. Others may be
permitted in principle, but should be the exception when
other methods have failed, rather than the rule.
Instruments of restraint are defined as external
mechanical devices designed to restrict or immobilise the
movement of a person’s body, in whole or in part.
A large variety of devices, with differing features, are in
use, and new technology continues to emerge. In broad
terms, instruments of restraint can be grouped into:
• ‘low-technology’ mechanical restraints – such as
ankle cuffs, anklets, hand- or leg-cuffs, fetters, waist
bands, wristlets, plastic cuffs, wraps, belts, shackles,
chains, (weighted) leg irons or leg cuffs, gang chains,2
finger- and thumb cuffs,3 soft/fabric restraints,
• so-called four/five/six-point restraints – such as
restraint chairs, shackle boards and restraint beds,5
isolation beds;6 and
• body-worn electric-shock restraint devices7 – such as
stun belts, sleeves or cuffs.
There are various other ways to manage the movement
of detainees for permissible purposes in a custodial
setting. The configuration and infrastructure of the
facility, adequate numbers of staff, who are well trained
and have the relevant skills and competencies, an
effective system for classification of detainees, and the
separation of different categories of detainee, are all
key factors in ensuring safety and order in custody.8
By comparison, ‘poor prison management resulting in
dysfunctional forms of control emerges as a major cause
of interpersonal violence, and by implication modification
of these practices (especially the removal of arbitrary
coercive controls) is effective in reducing violence’.9
1. European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT), 2nd General Report on the CPT’s activities 1 January – 31 December 1991, [CPT/Inf (92) 3],
13 April 1992, para. 53.
2. Restraint device with several cuffs chaining a group of prisoners together.
3. Such devices are designed to be fastened around the wrist, ankle, waist, fingers, thumbs or toes to restrain free movement of the hands or legs, and
can be made of metal, cloth or leather. Some instruments of restraint are designed so they restrict the movement of more than one part of the body.
These are generally known as ‘combination’ cuffs and are most widely available as handcuffs and leg cuffs linked together with a long chain.
4. A jacket with overlong sleeves which are crossed and tied across the chest or back once the arms are inserted, leaving little or no movement for the
5. Movable or stationary chairs, beds or boards, tying various points of the body (torso, chest, hands, legs, ankles) with belts and/or cuffs.
6. Beds molded in one piece and enclosed on all four sides.
7. These encircle various parts of the subject’s body (usually the waist, but variants have been developed to fit on legs or arms) and deliver an electric
shock when a remote control device is activated.
8. United Nations, Prison Incident Management Handbook, 2013, p26.
9. Homel R and Thompson C, Causes and prevention of violence in prisons, Griffith University: Sydney, 2005. Available at: http://www.griffith.edu.au/_ata/
assets/pdf_file/0003/188706/causes2.pdf <accessed 22 October 2013>
Penal Reform International | Instruments of restraint: Addressing risk factors to prevent torture and ill-treatment