Children will no longer be indiscriminately shackled in Maryland juvenile courts, a routine practice in more than half of the state's jurisdictions, according to the state public defender.
The anti-shackling policy, adopted this week by the Maryland Court of Appeals and the state Judicial Council, is based on a resolution by the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges.
"Shackling humiliates young people, recalls past trauma and limits their access to justice," Maryland Public Defender Paul B. DeWolfe said. "All of this is antithetical to the rehabilitative mission of the juvenile court. This reform will make it easier for the court to do what it's designed to do: Help kids get on the right track."
Maryland joins Washington, D.C., and 21 other states that have ended juvenile shackling by law, rule or policy, DeWolfe said.
The degree to which juvenile suspects were shackled varied by jurisdiction, DeWolfe said. In Baltimore and in many counties on the Eastern Shore, child suspects were often shackled with handcuffs, body and leg restraints, he said.
In Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties, juveniles were often shackled at their hands and feet but were allowed to remove the handcuffs during court proceedings, he said. Other counties such as Montgomery and Prince George's already had stopped the practice.
Under the new policy, judges will still have discretion to shackle suspects in the event of "a particularized security concern."
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Crystal Duarte, policy director at the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, called the new policy "great for Maryland."
"We found, when we talked to judges around the country, there really aren't issues that came up" when juvenile suspects weren't shackled, Duarte said.
Duarte said some suspects are put in handcuffs and leg irons for offenses as minor as stealing a friend's iPhone. She said shackling children restricts their ability to fully participate in the proceedings.
"Having the person who is the focus of things be in such a powerless position doesn't serve the rehabilitative nature of the juvenile court," she said.