(Redirected from Fetters)

Legcuffs are physical restraints used on the ankles of a person to allow walking only with a restricted stride and to prevent running and effective physical resistance.[1]

Cup lock shackle with no built-in lock
Standard type legcuffs made in Taiwan

Frequently used alternative terms are leg cuffs, (leg/ankle) shackles, footcuffs, fetters[2] or leg irons. The term "fetter" shares a root with the word "foot".

Shackles are typically used on prisoners and slaves. Leg shackles also are used for chain gangs to keep them together.[3]

Metaphorically, a fetter may be anything that restricts or restrains in any way, hence the word "unfettered".


Chain gang street sweepers, 1909
Wooden legcuff at a museum, Sri Lanka

The earliest fetters found in archaeological excavations date from the prehistoric age and are mostly of the puzzle lock type.[clarification needed] Fetters are also referenced in ancient times in the Bible (2 Samuel 3:34, Job 36:13, Psalm 149:8)

Heavy legcuffs from China, including a metal plate to protect the keyhole from collecting dust or being tampered with

A variety of restraint types already existed in Roman times. Some early versions of cup lock shackles existed at this time. These were widely used in medieval times, but their use declined when mass production made the manufacture of locks built into restraints affordable.

Simple fetter types continue to be used,[timeframe?] like puzzle lock shackles as the typical slave iron, or irons riveted shut for prisoners being transported to overseas prison camps.

The first built-in locks often were of a simple screw-type, but soon developed into the "Darby" type. In Europe these continued to be used into the middle of the 20th century, whereas in the U.S. from the late 19th century onwards many new designs were invented and produced before handcuffs and leg irons of the Peerless type became the standard several decades ago.[when?]

One type of shackle, called an "Oregon Boot" or "Gardner Shackle", was patented by Oregon State Penitentiary Warden J.C. Gardner in 1866. The shackle consisted of an iron band of varying weights that was locked around one of prisoner's ankles that was supported by braces which went down and under the prisoner's foot. The shackle's weight hobbled the prisoner's movements to prevent escape, and long-term use would cause severe injury to the wearer. Use of this type of shackle was ended by the mid-20th century.[4]

Controversial useEdit

In comparison to handcuffs, the wearing of leg irons may be found less restrictive. Thus, the prison authorities in several countries deem their long-term use acceptable. In order to avoid condoning this disputed practice, the countries of the European Union have banned exporting leg irons into non-EU countries.[5][6] The countries that continue to make prisoners wear fetters long-term now tend to manufacture their own restraints.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Select Your Library - Credo Reference".
  2. ^ Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Fetters and Handcuffs" . Encyclopædia Britannica. 10 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 296.
  3. ^ Reynolds, Marylee. "Back on the Chain Gang". Corrections Today. Gale group. Archived from the original on May 21, 2011. Retrieved 1 October 2013.
  4. ^ "DOC Operations Division: Prison A Brief History of the Oregon Boot". www.oregon.gov. Retrieved 10 December 2017.
  5. ^ Civilising the torture trade, by Steve Wright, The Guardian, Thursday March 13, 2003
  6. ^ COUNCIL REGULATION (EC) No 1236/2005 of 27 June 2005, concerning trade in certain goods which could be used for capital punishment, torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment