Juveniles should not be shackled

Why force teens to wear chains if it's counter-productive and interferes with justice?

The goal of the juvenile justice system is rehabilitation. Reform cannot be accomplished by degrading the young people who come before the juvenile court. That is one of the reasons that the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) supports limiting juvenile shackling in the courtroom. Mental health experts from around the country have warned of the psychological harm that shackling does, particularly to the many youth who are survivors of trauma. Shackles also make it difficult for children to consult with their attorneys and may cause prejudice against them because they convey the appearance of guilt.

For all these reasons, restraints should be reserved for those rare cases when a judge finds a safety risk that makes shackling necessary. Many groups, including the American Bar Association and Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, join the NCJFCJ in that position.

Your reporting on shackling in Maryland's juvenile courts is disturbing ("Juveniles in Maryland's justice system are routinely strip-searched and shackled," March 13). Our hope was that the resolution on shackling adopted by the state Judicial Council would be honored and that Maryland's youth would no longer face widespread use of shackles in the courtroom. Yet public defenders continue to argue and appeal on behalf of many young clients who appear in Baltimore City courts in handcuffs, leg irons and belly chains.

Nearly half the states have imposed limits on juvenile shackling with courts continuing to operate safely and efficiently. I can tell you from my own courtroom, where I allow shackles only in the rarest of circumstances that doing away with the practice makes it easier to connect with kids and help them find ways to improve their behavior.

Children in Baltimore deserve to have their rights protected, just as much as children who live elsewhere in Maryland do. I hope that we will see the day soon when juvenile shackling is limited in every state. Certainly, many states have recently reformed their practice or are the process of doing so. Maryland took a good first step toward reform last year. But the work will not be done until practice is fair and uniform across the state.

Darlene Byrne, Austin, Tex.

The writer is president of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges.

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