Commentary

02.24.15

American Bar Association Opposes Automatic Shackling of Juveniles in Court

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Handcuffs

This is the fourth in a series of posts on the topic of juvenile shackling.

More often than not, progress happens in steps. That was certainly true of the American Bar Association’s (ABA) evolving policy on juvenile justice.

In 2014, the ABA passed a resolution urging the “development of trauma-informed, evidence-based approaches and practices on behalf of justice system involved children and youth who have been exposed to violence, including child abuse and neglect or other crimes and those subject to delinquency or status offence proceedings.”

The resolution also noted that, “Some routine juvenile justice practices, such as solitary confinement, isolation, and restraint, can further traumatize youth and cause them additional harm.”

Read What is Shackling?, the first blog post in the series.

Read the second post, Worse Than Adults: The Shackling of Youth in Juvenile Court.

Read the third post, Shackling: Ohio Juvenile Courts Should Have Rules on Restraints.

Read testimonies from shackled youth.

So it should come as no surprise the ABA recently issued a report and adopted a resolution opposing the automatic shackling of youths in courts. It stated that children in juvenile court should be restrained in only the rarest of circumstances, citing that the overwhelming majority of juveniles are in court for non-violent offenses.

The resolution would permit the court to allow the use of restraints “only after providing the juvenile with an opportunity to be heard and finding that the restraints are the least restrictive means necessary to prevent flight or harm to the juvenile or others.”

View Stephen A. Saltzburg’s testimony before the ABA’s House of Delegates Meeting.

Why did the ABA adopt this resolution?

The ABA found that the use of restraints on children:

  • Violates the notions of fairness and due process, which are guaranteed to adults.
  • Interferes with juveniles’ ability to participate in their own defense by impeding their ability to consult or confer with counsel, take notes or stand in their own defense.
  • Is contrary to the purpose of the juvenile justice system, which is rehabilitation.
  • Degrades young people.
  • Is unnecessary because court order and safety can be achieved by less restrictive means.

This historic resolution comes at a time when several states are establishing policies and rules that limit the use of restraints. To date, as a result of legislation, regulation, or state Supreme Court rulings, children in the following states do not routinely appear in court with restraints: Alaska, California, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Utah, Vermont, Washington D.C., and Washington.

Ohio, a state usually regarded as a leader in juvenile justice reforms, has yet to develop rules or issue any guidance to juvenile courts on the use of restraints on children and youth.

What are we waiting on?

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