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Criminal Justice & Legal System

Saginaw County Sheriff to outfit some inmates with stun vest

The Saginaw County Sheriff Department plans to outfit inmates they believe could become violent in court with a "stun vest." 

Inmates will wear the vest underneath their clothes. 

Officers can use a remote control to deliver an electric shock if an inmate tries to attack someone and does not listen to a verbal command to stop. The shock is similar to that of a Taser device. 

William Street, a defense attorney in Saginaw, views the vest as a positive development. He says it will allow potentially dangerous inmates to dress in plain clothes while in court, but still provide safety for others in the courtroom.

Because jury members won't see that special restraint has been used, they won't be prejudiced one way or another, he says. 

"Having one of these vests available actually is a way that respects an individual's constitutional rights to at least have the appearance of being an ordinary civilian when they are put on trial in front of a jury by wearing the device underneath their civilian clothing," he said. 

He emphasized, however, that this device is something that should "rarely be used at all," noting that it should be restricted to people with a history of violence in the courtroom or who have made explicit threats to use violence in court. 

"For those people I think this could actually be a good compromise," he said, noting that the mere knowledge of an electric shock will likely prevent violent outbursts. 

But Saginaw defense attorney James Piazza worries the vest could be mishandled and hurt inmates. 

"I think the opportunity for abuse of something like this far outweighs the need for it," he told The Saginaw News.

The vest was purchased from Nova Security Group, an electronics company that makes products for law enforcement. 

– Jacob Axelrad, Michigan Radio Newsroom