According to mental health experts, the use of pepper spray can have severe mental health consequences for prisoners who are already psychologically vulnerable because of mental illness.
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Pepper spray can leave someone temporarily unable to breathe, which can be a terrifying experience for anyone. But the impact can be even more terrifying and traumatic for someone whose experience is colored by mental illness. Psychiatrist Dr. Edward Kaufman says that pepper spray can have immediate as well as long term consequences:. In , the Florida Department of Corrections Office of Health Services alerted prison officials that pepper spray should not be used on inmates with serious mental illness or who were in mental health patient units.
It is unclear whether mental health staff are typically aware of, much less communicate with custody staff about, the potential psychiatric injury from pepper spray.
Even in facilities in which mental health staff collaborate with custody staff to avoid the use of force, our research does not indicate that they are attentive to the possibility of trauma from cell extractions in which pepper spray is used. This assessment apparently looks only at physical, and not psychological, concerns. Nick Christie died two days after repeatedly being pepper sprayed and placed in a restraint chair with a spit mask in a Florida jail. His wife filed a lawsuit alleging he died from excessive force, among other claims.
In March, , the year-old left his home in Ohio to visit his brother in Florida. Christie had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, morbid obesity, and asthma. He had stopped taking his antidepressant and antianxiety medication and his mental health was on a downward spiral. On March 25, he was arrested for public intoxication, briefly detained and released. He was held at the Lee County Jail in Fort Meyers, Florida, where he was placed in the unit for detainees with mental health concerns.
Nevertheless, over the course of about 36 hours at the jail, Christie was sprayed more than 12 times with pepper spray OC spray and was decontaminated only once. He was held naked in a restraint chair for more than five hours, was sprayed with OC while restrained, was not decontaminated after the spraying, and had a spit mask placed over his nose and mouth while in the restraint chair and after being sprayed.
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He was taken to the hospital and he died there two days later. The coroner determined Christie died due to OC poisoning. Nevertheless, the jail did not have any policy regarding whether, and if so, when, detainees with mental illness could be sprayed.
As the court stated:. The jail also lacked policies regarding the number of times an inmate could be sprayed with pepper spray, whether an inmate held in a restraint chair could be pepper sprayed, or requiring immediate decontamination after pepper-spraying. In a motion for summary judgment the moving party has the burden of establishing there are no contested issues of material fact and that the party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. In reviewing motions for summary judgment, courts interpret facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.
Rather, there is at least a question of fact as to whether there was any penological justification for the custom of allowing the use of pepper spray on restrained individuals. Jeremiah Thomas was one of several plaintiffs with mental health problems who joined a lawsuit against Florida State Prison for repeatedly spraying inmates with chemical agents when they caused disturbances in their cells in the close management solitary confinement wings of the prison. Thomas was serving a year sentence for second degree murder and other charges.
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He had diagnoses of schizoaffective disorder, bi-polar type, and antisocial personality disorder with severe borderline features. According to the court, during 15 years of incarceration, Thomas would be periodically non-compliant with his medications and would subsequently decompensate. His symptoms included auditory hallucinations, impaired thought processes and paranoid delusions, and his behavior while incarcerated included acute agitation, banging on his cell door, eating his feces, pouring urine on his hands, exhibitionistic masturbation, urinating on his mattress, attempting to cut his penis, and repeated suicide attempts.
He was frequently sprayed with different chemicals, including OC, CN and CS gas, despite the fact that custody staff observed this had no effect on his compliance with staff orders to stop. In a day period between July 20 and August 3, , Thomas was sprayed with chemical agents eight times for simply yelling in his cell or banging on his cell door. He was then sprayed six times in seven days between September 20 and September 26, He consistently refused to take showers to decontaminate after being sprayed.
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- Use of Force against Inmates with Mental Disabilities in US Jails and Prisons | HRW;
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According to a psychiatrist who treated Thomas at UCI, it took her six months to stabilize him. Department policy prohibited the use of chemical agents at UCI. Thomas was returned to FSP in June The use of pepper spray was not permitted at UCI. The trial court noted testimony from senior department officials that facilities such as UCI that provide inpatient treatment have greater resources which permit closer supervision and monitoring of inmates.
Officers in some prisons and jails are equipped with weapons that administer electric shocks—referred to variously as stun guns, electroshock guns, or conducted emergency devices, among other terms. Because of the pain from the shocks and their dangerousness, it is generally agreed that if electronic stun devices are used at all, it should only be when necessary to control dangerous or violent subjects when other tactics have been or would be ineffective. Officers can administer electric shocks to prisoners in one of two ways—either by placing the weapon directly against the body of the person in so-called drive-stun mode—or by sending dart-like projectiles which administer a shock to a person located at a distance.
It is used to inflict pain on inmates to convince them to comply with orders in order to avoid further pain. It is easy for staff who routinely carry stun devices to deploy them unnecessarily. They have used them to make inmates comply with verbal commands even absent a threat, and they have used them punitively. Experts who reviewed the footage and related documents at the request of the Ledger Enquirer differed as to the reasonableness of the use of the Taser.
Electronic stun devices can have serious and even lethal consequences. Some individuals may be particularly susceptible to the effects….
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Repeated shocks can have cumulative effects and increases the risks of injury. According to Amnesty International, by more than people in the United States had died after being shocked with Tasers either during their arrest or while in jail.
The study also found that death is more likely when there has been continuous or repeated discharge of the stun device. In , the Department of Justice DOJ intervened in a civil rights case filed by inmates at the Franklin County Jail in Ohio alleging jail staff had engaged in a pervasive pattern of unnecessary and excessive use of Tasers.
In February , these claims were resolved by a court-enforceable settlement agreement.
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They used Tasers on people whose only offenses were minor rule violations that did not pose any threat to anyone, people who showed verbal or passive resistance to being stripped or otherwise showed lack of cooperation during the booking process, and people who used profanity or made derogatory remarks to deputies. Instead of entering the cell to remove the inmate, a team of deputies stood around outside the cell while a sergeant repeatedly tased this inmate a total of fourteen times because he would not slide out of the cell by himself.
The class action complaint provides numerous other examples. In one incident, deputies came to the cell of an inmate with mental health problems to move him to another location. When deputies opened the cell door the inmate was holding a mat in front of him and speaking unintelligibly. The inmate was finally pulled out of the cell, still clutching his mat. He was put in leg irons and allegedly had a Taser used on him again when he would not let go of the mat. In the settlement agreement, the sheriff agreed, inter alia, to limit the use of conducted energy devices:. The Agreement also specifically provides additional protection of persons with mental disabilities.
A deputy shall consider any known or apparent mental or physical impairment or intoxication due to drugs or alcohol in determining whether there is an objectively reasonable basis to deploy the CED.
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When an inmate is out of control and unable or unwilling to stop acutely dangerous behavior, correctional policies typically permit custody staff to temporarily immobilize his arms, legs, and sometimes head in special chairs or outfitted beds. Custody staff have used full body restraints for prisoners with mental health problems in non-emergency situations without attempting less restrictive means of control. They have used them for their own convenience to manage inmates who may be annoying or engaging in misconduct, but who are not a grave danger to themselves or others.
Even when custody staff have used restraints because of an imminent threat of serious self-harm, they have continued to apply the restraints after they are no longer necessary. He testified that staff continued restraints after they were no longer necessary.
For example, they returned inmates to restraint chairs for additional periods of time after the inmates had been released from restraints for a meal or a hygiene break and were calm and compliant. When a prisoner with mental disabilities is acting in ways that are extremely dangerous to themselves or others, mental health staff should if possible be involved in any decision as to whether full body restraint is necessary as an emergency measure.
Some correctional mental health experts argue that the use of restraints for mental health purposes in correctional facilities should be limited to the stabilization of unsafe situations until the inmate can be transferred to a psychiatric hospital:. Prisoners were kept in restraints for an average of The DOJ also identified instances in which officers used additional force such as electronic stun devices against inmates who were already fully immobilized.
After its investigation at Cresson, the Department of Justice initiated a system-wide investigation into the use of solitary confinement in Pennsylvania Department of Corrections facilities, an investigation that also found unnecessary and excessive use of full-body restraints for prisoners with serious mental illness in other facilities. Instead, they often appear interested in using the restraints as a means to discipline prisoners by causing discomfort or pain.
Custody staff may fail to follow proper procedures to care for an inmate while restrained, increasing the likelihood of injury and prolonging physical as well as psychological pain. They may fail to give the restrained inmate sufficient feeding and hydration, or not provide bathroom opportunities, leaving the inmate to defecate and urinate on himself. As with other types of force, full body restraints can produce unique harm for persons with mental disabilities. Prolonged use of restraints on inmates with certain clinical conditions, including some paranoid conditions, anxiety syndromes, and post-traumatic stress disorder, can be extremely difficult for them to tolerate.