A padded cell is a small room that has padding on the walls and floors to prevent self-harm to a person who is inside. Typically, as many objects get removed from the room as possible, and the ceilings are generally high so the occupant cannot touch the ceiling.
Padded cells are still used today in healthcare, schools, and correctional facilities. You likely hold images in your head of padded cells from psychiatric asylums many years ago. There have been many improvements to padded cells, and the use of padded cells has greatly diminished over the last half-century with the increased usage of psychotropic drugs reducing the need for padded cells.
Why Use Padded Cells?
The primary intended use for padded cells has always been for the protection of people. We credit Dr. John Conolly for bringing padded cells into widespread use in healthcare settings. Around 1839, while he was the in-house physician at Hanwell Asylum, he wanted to stop the inhumane practice of using mechanical restraints to control patients. That’s right; they would strap people to chairs or beds so they would not harm themselves until the introduction of padded cells.
Currently, healthcare facilities usually use padded cells when a patient is a risk for harming themselves or staff. Many times, padded rooms are called calming rooms, quiet rooms, personal safety-rooms, or de-escalation rooms which reflects the temporary, intended use of the rooms. Responsible healthcare facilities try to utilize padded rooms for as short a time as is needed for the benefit of the patient.
Many times, these calming rooms are used for people who are at high risk of suicide or self-harm and the use of medications is not quite enough to help the patient. Padded rooms are sometimes also used for people going through withdrawal or detox effects when a person stops using drugs or alcohol.
From healthcare facilities, padded cells were introduced into prisons and jails. When an inmate poses a threat to themselves (like they may want to attempt suicide) or if the inmate is violent and poses a significant risk to staff. You will sometimes see padded cells referred to as a “padded safety cell,” to emphasize that their sole intended purpose is to keep everyone safer.
Some schools have employed the use of padded rooms, though, in a school setting, they are generally called time-out rooms or, like in healthcare, called quiet rooms, calming rooms, or de-escalation rooms. Similar to healthcare, the rooms are used to protect students and staff, but the rooms are also sometimes used for a student to “reset” and become calm and focused. The quiet, peaceful nature of the rooms provide less sensory stimuli than most rooms creating a protective place for a child to calm down.
Are Padded Rooms Still Necessary?
The short answer is “yes.” Especially when a patient or inmate is violent, and there is no real way to subdue him or her safely, the best option is to place him or her in a safety-room for a time. Can you imagine asking a violent inmate to kindly stop trying to punch or kick a guard so they would take a calming psychotropic drug? Can you imagine what it would take a healthcare facility to keep a person from self-harm when the person is intent on hurting themselves? Padded safety rooms are obviously the best and most caring option.
We can mention again that properly setup padded safety rooms are also calming rooms. These rooms significantly reduce the amount of visual and auditory stimuli creating a naturally calming effect for many people. The bad reputation that padded safety rooms sometimes get is not from the rooms themselves but due to improper use of the rooms.
As a manufacturer of padded safety rooms, we like to see our rooms used only for their proper and intended purpose. We know these rooms are still at times necessary as a last resort for the safety of people. Every facility that has a padded safety room should have clear guidelines for the use of the room and proper training and enforcement of those guidelines.
We hope this helps in understanding what a padded room is!