A cage bed defines a bed completely enclosed with metal bars or netting on all sides, including the top, to confine a patient to a small area. These beds use a vertical or horizontal bar and padlock to restrain patients who exhibit aggressive behavior, control challenging behavior, and protect clients from injury. Cage beds have been banned in most countries as inhumane and degrading, but some European psychiatric institutions continue to use them as an alternative to drugging clients.
A 2003 study by the international Mental Disability Advocacy Center (MDAC) found some institutionalized patients were confined to a cage bed 24 hours a day for years to control aggressive behavior or because of insufficient staffing in some hospitals' psychiatric wards and mental institutions. The study covered the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, and Slovenia, and sparked international debate over the use of a cage bed as a client’s main living space. The advocacy center called the use of cage beds in these situations degrading, and labeled it a form of torture.
The study found some institutions were using a cage bed in violation of international human rights standards at a time when the four countries were preparing to join the European Union. The controversy led to cage beds being banned in mental health institutions in Hungary and Slovenia, and to less sweeping changes in the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Researchers visited 20 psychiatric wards in hospitals and mental institutions in Eastern and Central Europe. They found staff members in nursing homes and mental wards used cage beds to control patients who exhibited difficult behavior because of severe mental disabilities. The beds were also used to confine elderly dementia clients to protect them from wandering and injuring themselves. Human rights organizations lodged protests when the study revealed some patients were placed in a cage bed as punishment for unwanted behavior.
International treaties on human rights forbid cruel or inhumane treatment of mental patients or people who live in social care, such as orphans. These treaties define solitary confinement in a cage bed as a form of torture degrading to people who cannot defend themselves. The MDAC deemed the use of these beds as too restrictive and a form of incarceration. It concluded a cage bed should only be used as a last resort, when less restrictive attempts to control a client prove ineffective.