Inmates at Rikers Island are still shackled and handcuffed to metal restraint desks when in the facility’s classrooms despite a New York corrections commissioner promising to get them out last year.
Correction Commissioner Louis Molina told the city’s Board of Correction at a meeting last week that the desks are a “critical tool in managing a challenging population prone to acts of serious violence.”
His comments were the opposite of those last July when he told WNYC in July: “We are removing the restraint desks that were part of our restrictive housing system.”
But the specially constructed desks, which have been in use at Rikers for six years, are still used by 74 inmates in three Rikers housing units, correction sources told The New York Daily News.
Inmates at Rikers Island are still shackled and handcuffed to metal restraint desks when in classrooms despite the corrections commissioner promising to remove them last year.
The specially constructed metal desks are used to restrain “potentially disruptive inmates during therapeutic, educational, programming, and/or recreational sessions in a classroom.”
In July, the Department of Corrections (DOC) was preparing to begin a program called the Risk Management Accountability System, which would serve as a replacement for solitary confinement that allowed detainees to spend more time out of cell. .
But then Molina announced that it would go with a different model called Enhanced Supervision Housing, which allowed for holding desks.
There are two versions of support desks. One with a single seat, and another with double seats in which detainees face each other.
The inmates’ legs are chained through a steel bar to the desk, which is bolted to the floor. One arm is secured with handcuffs and a chain, which goes through a ring welded to the desk.
According to the DOC, the specially constructed metal desks are used to restrain “potentially disruptive inmates during therapeutic, educational, programming, and/or recreational sessions in a classroom setting.”
WhatsNew2Day.com has reached out to the DOC for comment.
Correction Commissioner Louis Molina acknowledged that the use of the desks has continued for the purpose of securing, he said, “individuals with a high propensity for violence.”
Molina told the city’s Board of Corrections at a meeting last week that the desks are a “critical tool in managing a challenging population prone to acts of serious violence.”
Molina had explained that the desks were a way of providing greater security to violent detainees. But he pointed out that he had initially wanted to wear ‘gloves’, which cover the hands and are intended to prevent cuts and stabbing.
However, he said federal monitor Steve Martin, a court-appointed prison supervisor, and Department of Corrections consultant James Austin advised him to use the restraint desks.
“Our expert and the monitor had reservations about using restraint gloves when they were out of the cell,” Molina said. ‘So the alternative we had was the clamping desk. When we presented it to the federal monitor, that’s what was approved.’
At last week’s meeting, Molina acknowledged that he has continued to use the desks in order to secure, according to what he said, “people with a high propensity for violence.”
“The desktop allows for the consistent provision of programming and socializing with peers (while) also ensuring security,” Molina said.
He was challenged by Board of Corrections member Bobby Cohen, who is also a doctor, who noted that Molina recently testified that stabbings and slashings have dropped systemwide by 14.4 percent in the last nine months.
‘Now he is telling us that the violence has decreased and, nevertheless, a month ago, he restored the containment chairs. Because you did?’ Cohen asked. “The board spent a lot of time trying to end this torturous process.”
Department of Corrections consultant James Austin told the Daily News that violence had decreased “significantly” in the Enhanced Supervisory Housing units, where desks are used.
Austin later confirmed that when a detainee demonstrates that they are not a risk, they are only transferred to another unit where restraint desks are not used.
“Commissioner Molina is right: this is a much better approach than handcuffs/gloves as it allows one to actively participate in rehabilitation programs in a more normal way,” Austin added.
At last week’s meeting, Cohen also argued that the desks are medically dangerous and that the board had not been consulted about the change.
“Containment desks are not a good medical option,” he said. They are medically dangerous. They are devious. They are humiliating and I hope you will remove them as soon as possible.
Molina responded: ‘The problem, Dr. Cohen, is that death is also a very dangerous thing. And we cannot allow someone to have the opportunity to kill another person.