Together We Ended Juvenile Shackling in Ohio

Updated March 28, 2016: The justices of the Supreme Court of Ohio voted in favor of Rule 5.01, a rule that will require juvenile courts to adopt a local rule that creates a presumption against automatic shackling.  Ohio’s juvenile courts will have until July 1st, 2016 to adopt a local rule.

For years, many children who appeared in Ohio’s juvenile courts were routinely and automatically required to wear handcuffs, belly chains, and/or leg irons in court.  The use of restraints in court is commonly referred to as shackling.

Though it is unconstitutional to shackle adults in court without a specific need, Ohio’s children were shackled without justification or an individualized determination that restraints were needed.  Despite the fact that juvenile shackling was common in Ohio, no rules existed guiding the practice.

This will change with Local Child Restraint Rule 5.01.

This rule will require courts to adopt a local rule that creates a presumption against automatic shackling in Ohio’s juvenile courts. The only exception will be if a judge determines that restraints are needed because a child presents a threat in court or an imminent flight risk. The rule requires the judge to permit any party to be heard on the record on the issue of whether restraints are necessary and calls for the least restrictive restraint needed.

Resources That Led To Reform

We pushed for an end to automatic shackling of children in Ohio’s juvenile courts in order to:

  • Extend due process protections to children. Adults have the right to appear in court without shackles unless they pose a risk in court. This right should be extended to Ohio’s youth who appear in court.
  • Restore the dignity of the court. Adults have the right to participate in “dignified courtroom proceedings.” Children deserve this same right.
  • Align Ohio’s juvenile courts with the rehabilitative mission of the juvenile justice system. The juvenile justice system was founded on the concept of rehabilitation of young people. By calling for individualized determinations of need and limiting use of restraint, the court could better provide rehabilitation to each child that comes before the court.
  • Reduce psychological harm. The Justice Policy Institute documents findings from numerous psychological journals that 75-93% of youth who enter the justice system have experienced some form of trauma. Several national mental health organizations and professionals have noted the damaging effects and “re-traumatization” that shackling has on children.
  • Affirm Judicial Discretion. The authority to determine who should and should not wear restraints during juvenile court proceedings should fall on the judge. Adopting Rule 5.01 affirms judicial discretion.

To learn more about the practice of shackling in Ohio juvenile courts, and the effort to end the practice, read our blog series:

Ohio now joins 23 states and the District of Columbia that prohibit the automatic use of restraints juvenile courts. Adopting a presumption against automatic shackling will allow Ohio’s juvenile courts to function in trauma-informed manner that reduces harm to the children it serves and upholds due process rights.