3.	Types and situations of risk
3.1. Regulation
The need for regulation of instruments of restraint stems
from the requirement that their use must be lawful. Clear
regulations and policies should be put in place by central
authorities on prohibited devices, the circumstances
under which restraints may be applied, and clarifying the
risks linked to their use.
This is supported by the revised Standard Minimum
Rules which stipulate that instruments of restraint
should only be used when authorised by law.20 The UN
Committee against Torture has also emphasised the
need to ‘strictly regulate the use of physical restraints
in prisons, (…) juvenile prisons and detention centres
for foreigners with a view to further minimizing its use
in all establishments’,21 and to ‘keep under constant
review the use of instruments of restraint that may cause
unnecessary pain and humiliation’.22
Given the lack of standardised definitions, the number
of different devices and constant technological
developments, any list of equipment should be illustrative
rather than exclusive, and should be revised on a regular
basis. Guidance should not be limited to the means of
restraint but incorporate admissible and inadmissible
purposes, as well as the aim of preventing inhuman or
degrading treatment or punishment.
Regulations should include a ‘formal accountability
structure (…) in each institution and throughout the
prison service’ since ‘[a]ll staff must be accountable for
their conduct and decisions and in particular for the use
of force and restraints (…)’.23
What could monitoring bodies check?

•	 Is there a regulation, compliant with international

standards, at the level of the central prison
administration which determines which devices of
restraint are admissible?

•	 Is the regulation comprehensive and precise enough
to effectively govern the use of restraints on persons
deprived of their liberty?

•	 Are the policies reviewed regularly? Who is in charge
of initiating and undertaking such a review? Does it
ensure that the most recent knowledge is taken into
consideration, including on health risks associated
with the use of certain restraints?

•	 How is any revised regulation brought to the attention
of prison administrations and staff, and who is in
charge of notifying all relevant actors of an updated

•	 Are staff held to account if found to be using

restraints unnecessarily, disproportionately or in a
painful or humiliating way?

3.2. Prohibited instruments
Both the Special Rapporteur on Torture and the
Committee against Torture have condemned methods
of restraint that are inherently inhuman, degrading or
painful, or have such effects.24 Rule 47 (1) of the revised
Standard Minimum Rules explicitly prohibits the use of
chains, irons, or other instruments of restraint that are
inherently degrading or painful. This is mirrored in Rule
68 (1) of the European Prison Rules. Fabric leg restraints,
appropriately tested and selected in line with human
rights standards, could provide a more humane, yet
effective, alternative to the use of ‘metal on skin’.

On 10 December 2003 the Mozambique
Human Rights League visited Maputo’s
Maximum Security Prison to find five
prisoners held in leg-irons, whilst a sixth
prisoner was shackled with chains. The
prisoners had spent four days and nights
with their ankles shackled or chained
together, causing them great pain by
pressing into their flesh whenever the
prisoners bent their knees. They had cut
into the flesh of one prisoner who tried to
relieve the pain by inserting cloth between
the metal and the skin.25

•	 Does the regulation stipulate that other means must
be exploited first?

•	 Does its scope explicitly include the use of restraints
during transfers of detainees?

•	 Are the prison administration and staff aware of the

It should be noted that, in the light of constantly
changing technology, any list of prohibited instruments
in national regulations should be illustrative rather than
exclusive, and should have as its objective the prohibition
of any device that is degrading, humiliating or painful.

20.	Revised Standard Minimum Rules, Rule 47 (2).
21.	Report of the UN Committee against Torture to the UN General Assembly – 47th/48th session, A/67/44, p47.
22.	For example, UN Committee against Torture, Concluding Observations: New Zealand, 2009, CAT/C/NZL/CO/5, para. 9.
23.	UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Handbook for Prison Leaders, 2010, p40.
24.	Report of the Committee against Torture – 23rd/24th session, A/55/44, para. 180 (c), reiterated by the Special Rapporteur on Torture in his report to the
UN General Assembly, 9 August 2013, A/68/295, para. 58.
25.	Community Law Centre, University of the Western Cape, Civil Society Prison Reform Initiative, Newsletter No. 20. Available at: http://www.
omegaresearchfoundation.org/assets/downloads/publications/comm%20law%20centre.pdf <accessed 22 October 2013>.

Penal Reform International | Instruments of restraint: Addressing risk factors to prevent torture and ill-treatment	


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