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.
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.