NYC Jail Report Reveals Use of ‘Restraint Desks’ for Inmates

On Rikers Island, young inmates sit for hours with feet shackled to their desks in a cell block for the jail’s most violent detainees. It is considered a humane alternative to solitary confinement.

On Rikers Island in New York City, young men sit for hours with feet shackled to “restraint desks” in a cell block for the jail’s most violent inmates, reports ProPublica. The school-like desks, outfitted with chains and locks, are located in specialized cell blocks called Enhanced Supervision Housing units. In the most secure levels, inmates who have committed violent infractions can leave their cells for a minimum of seven hours every day, but must be locked to the desks for much of that time. Officials said they created the units as a more humane alternative to solitary confinement, but a new report from the New York City Board of Correction suggests they may have traded one problematic practice for another.

The report focused on the lives of young adults in these units, which opened first to older inmates in 2015, and a year later, to inmates under 22. It found that inmates often weren’t told how long they’d have to live in the specialized housing units. Some stayed for as little as two days; others, several months. The units are broken into levels, the most secure of which use desk restraints. The board found that many young adults were not given a hearing to determine whether they needed to live in such a restricted environment.