The use of restraint beds in prisons pose a significant risk of breaching the prohibition against inhumane treatment

Placing an inmate in a restraint bed is one of the most serious coercion methods that Norwegian prisons can use. The Parliamentary Ombudsman has investigated the use of restraint beds in prisons in the period 2013-2018 and recommends in a Special Report that restraint beds should be abolished entirely.

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The NPMs Thematic Report 2020, revealed that the use of restraint beds in prisons involves a major risk of breaching the prohibition against torture and inhumane treatment in accordance with the UN Convention against Torture and Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Parliamentary Ombudsman Hanne Harlem says that “Individuals who are so self-harming that they must be placed in restraint beds, have first and foremost a need for health care and should to a greater degree be transferred to the specialist health services. It is therefore also important that the health authorities examine our findings more closely”.

“Being placed in a restraint bed involves a considerable risk of both physical and mental harm”, says Hanne Harlem. “We see that many of those who are placed in restraint beds were initially placed in solitary confinement within a high security cell. We are concerned that self-harm can also be an expression of the trauma caused by isolation”.

As a result of the findings in this report the Parliamentary Ombudsman recommends that restraint beds be removed from Norwegian prisons. This is in line with the recommendation made by the European Committee on the Prevention of Torture during its visit to Norway in 2018. The Committee also found that restraint beds should be removed from Norwegian prisons.

Hanne Harlem emphasizes that “Our recommendation to remove restraint beds from prisons is based on the issue that this measure involves a significant risk of breaching the prohibition against torture and ill treatment”.

Insufficient health follow-up and legal safeguards

 The use and application of a restraint bed is carried out by correctional staff – not by health personnel. This despite the risk of harm to health, and that it is mostly persons with significant mental health problems or persons facing an acute life crisis who are subject to being placed in a restraint bed. Inmates who are restrained also receive much poorer follow-up by prison health services compared to follow-up provided to patients who are restrained within mental healthcare institutions.

In many cases we found that considerable time passed before the restrained inmate was examined by health personnel. This is not in accordance with the regulations in mental health care.

Although the decision to place an inmate into a restraint bed is the most serious measure that can be made in prison, we found that formal decisions in writing, providing the reasons and legal authority, were absent in approximately 10 percent of the incidents. A large proportion of the 82 decisions that were in writing lacked adequate reasons explaining why the restraint bed was considered strictly necessary for use in the specific situation.