Use of Force (Part Two)

Yesterday I focused on what should happen before an officer resorts to using force against a prisoner. Today I’ll be taking a look at what happens if force is absolutely necessary.

When there is no alternative available to staff but to use force against a prisoner the first choice should always be to use Control and Restraint techniques. Such incidents can be divided into two categories. Planned incidents are those where there is no immediate danger, such as if a non-compliant prisoner must be extracted from a cell. In these situations staff will be briefed and the healthcare department notified in advance who will attend and observe the intervention. Unplanned incidents are those where there is an immediate threat which must be dealt with straight away. Many unplanned incidents will have to be dealt with ‘on the hoof’. Control and restraint techniques require three members of staff to participate, with the option of a fourth restraining the legs. If there are fewer than three staff first on the scene then it is expected that they will use whatever force is necessary to protect themselves or others, but may wish to wait for additional staff to attend in order to reduce the risk to themselves.

If three officers are present and C&R techniques can be employed there is a duty upon staff to attempt to de-escalate the situation throughout the incident with the aim of releasing the holds and locks they are using. If a prisoner is compliant the holds must be relaxed.

If there are not three officers present and an officer must use force to defend themselves or others then they may employ personal safety techniques instead. However, these techniques are a last resort and should be used only when verbal de-escalation, pressing an alarm bell, awaiting assistance, or running away has failed or is not possible. The techniques used should aim to prevent an assault and then get away from the violent situation as quickly as possible. Strikes should not usually be included, except in exceptional circumstances.

In very specific circumstances it may be necessary for a member of staff to use a baton. However, even if it is not used, anyone who draws a baton will later be expected to explain the necessity of doing so.

Planned incidents will involve a supervising officer and even in unplanned incidents a supervising officer is expected to attend at the soonest opportunity. It is their job to persuade the prisoner to end the incident peacefully, to assemble a team of control and restraint staff, to ensure they all have the necessary training, to liaise with the healthcare department, to consider the use of a video camera to record the intervention, and to brief the team. It’s recommended that staff be provided with full protective equipment (commonly known to prisoners as ‘riot gear’) but this is not mandatory.

It is also the supervisor’s job to unlock any doors during an incident, monitor the condition of the prisoner, order the release of holds and locks if it is necessary to do so, monitor staff throughout, decide if and when to apply handcuffs, and liaise with the duty governor as to whether the prisoner should be strip searched under restraint.

Handcuffs must not be used unless absolutely necessary and a number of considerations must be made including the distance the prisoner is to be moved in the handcuffs, whether the prisoner is continuing to be violent or aggressive, and whether the prisoner is being compliant but nevertheless is not judged safe enough to walk completely independently. Age, gender, size, strength, fitness, and injury should also be considered.

Handcuffs can be applied when a prisoner is in a variety of positions but if they applied when a prisoner is in a prone position then they must NEVER be left in that position whilst in handcuffs. Nor should they ever be left on an unsupervised prisoner. If used the prisoner should be handcuffed with their hands behind them.

In serious cases of concerted indiscipline (which is now the term used to describe everything from a refusal of a prisoner to leave a cell to a full on riot) C&R advanced trained staff (also known as the Tornado response team) in full riot gear will attend to employ control and restraint and to gain control of the situation. Every time staff are asked to do this they receive a pay bonus.

There are many medical matters to take into consideration where use of force is concerned. Firstly, if a female prisoner who is, or suspected to be pregnant needs to be restrained then special C&R techniques must be used and, if the intervention is planned, all staff must be briefed beforehand.

During control and restraint there is a risk of positional asphyxia, where the restrained prisoner cannot breathe and is at risk of falling unconscious, suffering brain damage, and even dying. Staff are advised of the risks and warning signs of asphyxia in the PSO and instructed that, if they spot these, they should release or modify the restraint and summon medical attention. It is also noted that “there is a common misconception that if an individual can talk then they are able to breathe, this is NOT the case. An individual dying from positional asphyxia may well be able to speak or shout prior to collapse.”

Other medical considerations include excited delirium (which can be caused by drug intoxication, psychiatric illness, or both and which manifests in a variety of ways including aggression), psychosis, and sickle cell disease (which can cause blood vessels to become blocked if oxygen in the body is reduced).

The PSO also details what medical implications there can be to each body part, ranging from bruising to the ears to asphyxiation due to a crushed wind pipe, a nose bleed to a fractured pubic bone from a hard kick to the groin, blurred vision to a fractured skull. However, it also says that in extreme circumstances the whole body is a legitimate target.

Once a prisoner has been restrained they will usually be moved to a secure cell, whether that is their own cell, a cell in the segregation unit, or a special cell. Tomorrow I will focus on what happens next.

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