Disability Rights

Children in Chains


For years, Ohio children have been brought into juvenile courts wearing shackles, leg irons, or handcuffs.

Children as young as nine years old appear in court with restraints before they have even seen a judge and without any determination as to whether the restraint is needed.

Restraint practices vary throughout Ohio. No uniform rules exist to guide juvenile courts. No uniform requirement for hearings exists either.

In 2008 and 2011, the ACLU of Ohio issued a Juvenile Justice Report Card and gave Ohio a grade of F for its juvenile shackling practices.

Courts around the country have ruled that the use of restraints in adult judicial proceedings violates a defendant’s due process rights, and restraints can only be used for those who pose a safety risk or have a documented history of escape. Courts should also make a record to support their reason for using restraints. While adults who appear in Ohio courts have all of these rights, children do not.

Many states have come to realize that indiscriminately shackling or restraining children is barbaric and undermines the constitutional rights of children. Many states have ended the practice of indiscriminate or routine shackling without sacrificing court safety.

As a result of legislation, regulation, or Supreme Court rulings, children in the following states do not routinely appear in court with restraints: Alaska, California, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Illinois, Maine, 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.

In 2011, at the request of the ACLU of Ohio, Miami-Dade Public Defender Carlos J. Martinez released a policy report, “Unchain the Children: Five Years Later in Florida.” The report provides a detailed account of Florida’s successful and safe court management following their ban on indiscriminate shackling.

In 2010, Massachusetts enacted a court policy that presumes against the use of restraints and provides guidelines if it is determined that restraints are needed. In 2012, Associate Clinical Professor of Law of Suffolk University, Kim M. McLaurin released “Children in Chains: Indiscriminate Shackling of Juveniles,” which examines shackling practices, harms, and reforms.

In a report, “HEALING INVISIBLE WOUNDS: Why Investing in Trauma-Informed Care for Children Makes Sense,” the Justice Policy Institute indicates that the use of restraints can “exacerbate the symptoms of mental disorders, including PTSD” in justice-involved children.

Mental health professionals have weighed in by highlighting the negative impact restraints can have on children. Dr. Marty Beyer, a nationally recognized clinical psychologist with expertise in juvenile justice and child welfare, provided a sworn affidavit detailing these effects.

Ohio is considered a national model in reducing its juvenile detention population without sacrificing safety.

Twenty three states and Washington D.C. have managed to maintain court order and safety without violating the due process and constitutional rights of children appearing in juvenile court.

Ohio can do the same.