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Psychologist Testifies School Restraint Device Is "Akin To A Torture Device"

federal courthouse
Courtesy of U.S. Southern District of Iowa
A clinical psychologist testified in federal court that a state run school's use of solitary confinement and physical restraints are unacceptable professionally.

A clinical psychologist said the use of solitary confinement and a physical restraint device at a state-run school for deliquent teenage boys "falls way outside of professional standards."

Washington D.C.-based psychologist Andrea Weisman testified in federal court on Tuesday that techniques used by the Boys State Training School in Eldora could be further traumatizing to a population of youth that statistically have experienced high levels of trauma.

Weisman called a device, known as "the wrap," which physically restrains students to a table, "akin to a torture device" and said it is never appropriate to use on youth as it may further traumatize those with a mental illness or survivors of assaults.

Weisman also testified that the only acceptable use of solitary confinement is for a one to two hour "cooling off period," and said based on her review, the school keeps kids confined long after they have gained composure. 

"The use of solitary confinement and 'the wrap' are anything but rehabilitative," Weisman said.

Brett Lawrence, the treatment services director for the school, testified that the device was used for safety and the school's policy required that students are not kept in "the wrap" for more than an hour. But he said there have been times when students have possibly been confined for up to two hours if they were still displaying aggressive behavior. 

Mental health professionals are not always in attendance while kids are in "the wrap," but they review reports afterwards, Lawrence said.

Lawrence, who has worked at the school for three decades, said he has worked to reduce the use of "the wrap" and said school policy used to permit boys to be contained for up to four hours.

Lawrence testified that one of the plaintiffs named on the case repeatedly tried to get himself placed in "the wrap" claiming he was going to "shut this place down."

The school's main mission is to rehabilitate the boys to be released to the community by offering school classes, vocational training and recreational activities, Lawrence said.

"We build bonds with them," said Lawrence. "We look for the good in them."

On Monday, treatment program administrator Lynn Allbee testified that the school only used solitary confinement and physical restraints as a safety measure for students and staff, not as a punishment.

The Boys State Training School has been accused of using unconstitutional and illegal practices to treat mental illness in a class action lawsuit filed by Disability Rights Iowa. The case is filed in the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Iowa.

The school houses around 100 boys, ages 12 to 18. At least half of the boys have a diagnosed mental illness.

Natalie Krebs is IPR's Health Reporter