Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

DC Prisoners Sue VA Over Restraints

Since 1998, about 1,200 District of Columbia prisoners have been caged at the Sussex II highsecurity state prison in Virginia when D.C. closed its aging Lorton Correctional Complex. On August 29, 2000 a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of those prisoners claims they suffer "cruel degradation and humiliation" when they are shackled to bare metal beds for long periods. The suit, filed in U. S. District Court in Richmond, Virginia, seeks injunctive relief barring the use of "fourpoint restraints" at the Sussex II prison.

Eric R. Lotke, executive director of D.C. Prisoners' Legal Services Project, Inc., told the Richmond TimesDispatch that "they take these guys, they strip them down to their underwear, they lay them down on a flat... metal slab. And they tie them down by all of their extremities, their wrists, their ankles, [a] strap across their thighs and another strap across their chest and they leave them there," said Lotke.

Larry Traylor, a PR flack for the Virginia DOC, said the method of restraint meets constitutional standards and those set by the American Correctional Association. He denies that Virginia prisons use restraints as punishment.

"Inmates nationwide are notorious for complaining about prison conditions to the news media," Traylor told the TimesDispatch, "while at the same time refusing to substantiate those same complaints through prison authorities."

Lotke said prisoners are strapped down for as lon7 as three days, with 15minute breaks every six hours to eat or use the toilet. And "if you have to use the toilet in between the breaks, that's just tough luck you just go ahead and go on yourself."

He said that even when let up for a break, the prisoners are kept in wrist, belly and ankle chains. "One guy they didn't even let up. They let one arm loose so he could try and feed himself," Lotke said.

Traylor admits that prisoners are restrained, but only to protect themselves, other prisoners, staff or state property never for punishment. "We are serious about our responsibility to protect the commowealth's inmate population," he said.

But Lotke counters the DOC claim that restraints are used only to "protect" and not for punishment. He said that one fivepointed DC prisoner was convicted of assaulting a guard when the guard yanked on a phone cord running into the prisoner's cell and the prisoner pulled back.

In another case, Lotke said that a prisoner who banged on his cell door because he didn't get butter with his bread was charged with attempted destruction of state property.

"It's not a case of inmates being held accountable for their own misdeeds. It is a case of mean people looking for excuses to do mean things," said Lotke.

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login

Related legal case

Prisoners of Sussex II v. Angelone