What Are Legcuffs?

Maggie Worth

Legcuffs are specially sized restraints, similar to handcuffs, that are meant to restrain an individual's legs. Similar devices include manacles and leg irons. These cuffs are most often used in law enforcement settings, specifically during the transport of prisoners.

Legcuffs and handcuffs may be used to restrain an individual's feet and hands.
Legcuffs and handcuffs may be used to restrain an individual's feet and hands.

Most law enforcement agencies have access to legcuffs, though they are not generally carried on police calls. Similar in design to handcuffs, which are a traditional part of an officer's gear, legcuffs consist of two roughly circular metal loops connected by a chain. The loops open so that they can be placed around a prisoner's ankles and then closed again. The cuffs are then locked with a key.

Many prisons and other detention facilities use manacles or shackles instead of legcuffs, particularly when transporting offenders. While these restraints are similar in terms of design, they feature more substantial metal bands around the ankles and generally have longer connecting chains so that prisoners can walk under their own steam. Manacles often have the ability to be linked, either to other sets of manacles, to handcuffs or to another surface, making escape more difficult. The term "chain gang" comes from the practice of chaining several prisoners together via their legcuffs or manacles, often while they are performing community service work.

Historically, leg restraint was achieved via devices called leg irons. These irons included two connected half-circles of iron that were placed over an individual's legs and secured with an iron bar that ran through holes in the open ends of the cuffs and then was locked with a padlock. Leg irons were used not only in prisons, but also as a means of restraining slaves, particularly on ships. Unlike legcuffs, leg irons are completely rigid and therefore make walking virtually impossible.

The ability to restrain a prisoner's legs is important in many law enforcement situations. Such restraint impedes the individual's ability to escape, as it makes walking or running difficult or even impossible. It also impedes the ability to fight with the feet, as the individual cannot kick or stomp while remaining upright.

While legcuffs are most often used in law enforcement, other uses may arise. Certain sexual practices involve the use of such cuffs, for instance. Halloween or other costumes, particularly those characterizing prisoners, may also involve such cuffs. Metal or fabric legcuffs may be used to restrain mentally ill patients as well. Like any restraints, these devices are helpful when used properly, but do offer the opportunity for misuse.

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Discussion Comments

OeKc05

I had a Halloween costume that came with legcuffs. It was a white and black striped jumpsuit, and the cuffs were made of some type of black foam.

I'm sure they were significantly more comfortable than the metal legcuffs used on prisoners. They were for effect only, and they appeared realistic from a distance.

I don't think I could have hobbled around all night while wearing metal legcuffs. The foam ones were soft and pliable, so they allowed me to move around without hurting myself. Even these limited me a good bit, though, and dancing was very difficult that night!

seag47

I have seen this type of cuffs before. Often, the local evening news shows footage of prisoners being transported, and they are shuffling about in legcuffs and handcuffs.

Their walking ability is very limited by the cuffs. They can merely scoot their legs in a gait that resembles that of an elderly person with stiff joints.

It would be seriously hard for a prisoner wearing cuffs on both the wrists and legs to do any harm to an officer or to escape. Once they have been locked into these, they are at the mercy of their captors.

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