Concerns have been raised, for example, about weighted
leg cuffs,26 leg irons, bar fetters,27 finger- cuffs28 and
thumb cuffs29 on the grounds that they purposefully
cause pain, anguish or humiliation.
The use of body-worn electro-shock restraint devices
has been increasingly condemned by both the UN
Committee against Torture and the Special Rapporteur
on Torture.30 The European Committee for the Prevention
of Torture (CPT) has appraised their use as ‘inherently
degrading’, highlighting that ‘the scope for misuse is
particularly high’ and recommending ‘alternative means
of ensuring security during the movements of detained
Concerns relate to the infliction of severe physical pain,
the humiliating and degrading effect, and the fact that
electric shocks can be delivered remotely, meaning that
the detainee must anticipate activation at any moment.

The electrical current not only causes
severe pain, with one survivor describing it

as ‘very intense shocking pain, so intense I
thought that I was actually dying’, but can
cause short and long term physical side
effects. These include; muscular weakness,
urination and defecation, and heartbeat
irregularities and seizures. 32


Methods of restraint, which are likely to obstruct the
airways partially or wholly, or forcing the detainee into
positions where he/she risks asphyxia, must also not be

In 2004, a 39-year-old woman died in Florida
from strangulation from a leather belt whilst
trying to wriggle free from a restraint chair.
Hands cuffed behind her back, she was tied
onto the chair with a leather belt around her
chest and a nylon strap around her waist.
Her legs were shackled and her ankles
cuffed. The chair had been modified and a
leather belt was used to restrain her across
the chest rather than the manufacturer
approved ‘crisscross’ straps. When officers
found her, she had wriggled off the chair,
though her ankles and legs were still
secured to its base, and the leather belt was
around her neck. It remained unclear why
the chair had been modified. The corrections
officer who strapped the woman said she
hadn’t received training on its use.34

What could monitoring bodies check?

•	 Who decides which equipment is made available in
the facility?

•	 Which instruments of restraint are in use in the place
of detention? Are body-worn electro-shock devices

•	 Do existing regulations explicitly incorporate a

prohibition of the use of devices that are inherently
inhuman, degrading or painful, or have a humiliating
or degrading effect? If so, are staff aware of what
types of equipment are prohibited?

•	 Are prison staff aware of concerns relating to

26.	See Special Rapporteur on Torture, Mission to China, 10 March 2006, E/CN.4/2006/6/Add. 6, para. 68.
27.	See Study on the situation of trade in and production of equipment which is specifically designed to inflict torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading
treatment, 13 January 2003, E/CN.4/2003/69, para. 9, with reference to verdict of the Sindh High Court (Pakistan) dated 30 December 1993, p3
(quoted in E/CN.4/1997/7/ Add.2, para. 59 and note 1).
28.	See US Bureau of Industry and Security, Code of Federal Regulations, 1 January 2013, Specially designed implements of torture, including
thumbscrews, thumbcuffs, fingercuffs, spiked batons, and parts and accessories, N. E. S., C FR 742.11. Available at: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/
granule/CFR-2013-title15-vol2/ CFR-2013-title15-vol2-sec742-11/content-detail.html <accessed 24 October 2013>.
29.	See Amnesty International and Omega Research Foundation, No more delays: putting an end to the EU trade in ‘Tools of Torture’, stressing that ‘the
practical utility of thumb-cuffs for legitimate law enforcement purposes is unproven, while their propensity for use in “stress positions” amounting to
torture and other ill-treatment is evident.’, June 2012, AI-Index: ACT 30/062/2012, p20.
30.	For example, Report of the Committee against Torture, Section M United States of America, A/55/44, 15 May 2000, para. 179(e); Special Rapporteur
on Torture, Report to the UN General Assembly, 9 August 2013, A/68/295, para. 58. The European Commission has classified them as a device ‘which
has no practical use other than for the purpose of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’, EC Regulation 1236/2005,
Article 3 and Annex II, para.2.1.
31.	CPT, 20th General Report, p33 et sqq; see also Council of Europe (2010) Press release: ‘Council of Europe anti-torture committee calls for strict
regulation of electrical discharge weapons’, 26 October 2010. Available at: http://www.cpt.coe.int/en/annual/press/2010-10-26-eng.htm <accessed 22
October 2013>
32.	Omega Research Foundation, quoting Yoon, P K (2003) ‘The “Stunning” Truth: Stun Belts Debilitate, They Prejudice, and They May Even Kill’, Capital
Defense Journal 15, Issue 2, pp385, 286.
33.	See in the context of deportations, Guidelines of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on Forced Return, Guideline 19, CM(2005)40
final, 2005.
34.	‘Sheriff to pay $500,000 to settle jail suit’, Orlando Sentinel, 27 April 2007. Available at: http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/2007-04-27/news/
LRESTRAINT27_1_restraint-chair-corrections-staff-jail <accessed 23 October 2013>.

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

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