Unshackle Juveniles in the Courtroom
Historically, the shackling of prisoners has been a form of punishment or discipline but in more modern times has been used as an instrument of restraint, particularly when moving inmates from one area of a facility to another, or transporting them to and from a facility for court appearances. It has applied to both juveniles and adults but in the last decade, the practice with regard to the shackling of juveniles has received widespread condemnation and deemed a violation of their constitutional (if not human) rights.
As of 2007, 28 states regularly practiced the shackling of juveniles during court appearances. In the last several years alone, there have been numerous instances where the use of shackles has been seen as not only dehumanizing and degrading, but completely unnecessary.
Patricia Puritz, executive director of the National Juvenile Defender Center commented that shackling “is so egregious, so offensive, so unnecessary” and “There is harm to the child and there is also harm to the integrity of the process. These children haven’t even been found guilty of anything.”
A case in point is that of Jordan Brown, who at the age of eleven was arrested and charged with the murder of his father’s fiance and her unborn child in 2009, in Wampum, Pennsylvania.
His appearance in court for his arraignment (and subsequent pre trial hearings) with his small frame shackled both wrist and ankle, alarmed not only his family and advocates against this archaic practice but most rational thinking people as well. His family was told that the he will continue to be shackled in the courtroom until such time as he is brought before a jury at trial, the reason for which is specious at best, as the prosecution would feel a shackled child may influence a jury to be more compassionate than they would like.
In 2011, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania adopted Rule 139, specifically “to eliminate shackling during a court proceeding in almost every case. Only in the few extreme cases should such restraints be utilized”.
Another juvenile who has been paraded, shackled, before the media and the court is Cristian Fernandez who at age twelve was arrested and charged with the murder of his two-year-old stepbrother in Jacksonville, Florida. Like Jordan, the evidence against him is weak and his behavior whilst detained, exemplary. Yet, he continues to be brought before the court shackled when it is obvious the child poses no threat to anybody whatsoever. Curiously no motion has been filed on his behalf to allow him to appear unrestrained.
The argument for those in support of shackling was essentially rendered moot, when in 2009, the Florida Supreme Court limited the use of shackling juveniles with the amendment (effective January 1, 2010) to Rule 8.100 (General Provisions for Hearings) which reads in part;
Instruments of restraint may not be used on a child during court and must be re-moved unless the court makes a finding that both
1. the use of the shackles are necessary due to one of these factors
A. to prevent harm to the child or another
B. the child has a history of disruptive behavior that has placed others in harmful situations or present a substantial risk of risk inflicting harm on themselves or others as evidenced by recent behavior or
C. the child is a flight risk
2. there is no less restrictive alternative that will prevent flight or harm
As stated by the Florida Supreme Court, “We find the indiscriminate shackling of children in Florida courtrooms as described in the NJDC’s Assessment repugnant, degrading, humiliating and contrary to the stated primary purposes of the juvenile justice system and to the principles of therapeutic justice, a concept which this Court has previously been acknowledged.”
The states of California, Connecticut, Illinois, New Mexico, North Dakota, North Carolina, Oregon, and Vermont no longer shackle juvenile defendants as a result of State Supreme Court rulings or legislative action.
In 2010, Justice Milton A. Tingling Jr. of the State Supreme Court in Manhattan found “that the agency’s policy violated the state’s own law on shackling youths in custody”.
There is an obvious and growing trend toward amending juvenile procedures in the courtroom and it is my hope that you will give this petition the consideration it deserves and sign it so as this violation of not only law, but the rights of all juvenile defendants will be recognized in future.