The New York Times explores issues surrounding cell extractions, the forcible removal of prisoners from their cells by a tactical team armed with less-lethal weapons like Tasers, pepper spray and stun shields. Jails and prisons routinely use the tactic in response to threatening behavior or disciplinary infractions. While cell extractions are not new, lawsuits and cases around the U.S. are demonstrating the dangers of their widespread use, especially with mentally ill inmates, who represent an increasing segment of the jailed population and who are disproportionately the targets of force.
Videos made public in California last fall showed corrections officers at state prisons dousing severely psychotic inmates with large amounts of pepper spray before forcibly removing them from their cells, images that a federal judge termed “horrific.” And in Florida in May, an inmate who was reportedly mentally ill died during a cell extraction. Despite the frequent use and inherent dangers of cell extractions, states and localities vary widely in when and how they are carried out and in the level of training required of officers who conduct them. Many corrections experts believe extractions are vastly overused.