One Los Angeles County jail inmate, wearing only boxer shorts and socks, was handcuffed to a wall for up to 11 hours. Another was cuffed to the wall for as many as eight or nine hours, causing bleeding and severe pain to his wrists. The Los Angeles Times said they were among dozens of inmates who were chained to the wall with their hands behind their backs, half-naked or even fully naked, sometimes with their feet shackled to the floor, as jail officials waited for them to expel contraband from their bodies. Corrections experts say the practice is improper and inhumane. At the maximum-security jail run by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, it was spelled out in writing as a required practice. The Sheriff’s Department has rescinded the policy and referred 24 cases to the district attorney’s office for possible prosecution.
Prosecutors have filed criminal charges in only one case, the prolonged handcuffing of an inmate suspected of having a “kite,” or unauthorized note to another inmate, hidden in his rectum. Advocates for the deputies argue that it’s unfair to blame low-level officials who were following department policy. Contraband watch, known informally as “potty watch,” is a fact of life at jails and prisons across the U.S., as inmates conceal drugs, weapons and other forbidden items in their body cavities. Potty watches often become tests of patience, stretching for hours during the wait for the inmate to use the toilet. “Do the ends justify the means? In the end, you get the contraband, but is there a better, more humane way to do it?- asked James Robertson, a corrections consultant in Denver. “If they were in that kind of restraint for any length of time, it is absolutely abominable,” said Peter Eliasberg of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.