Child advocacy groups in North Carolina object to the shackling of children during juvenile court hearings as unlawful and emotionally abusive, says the Charlotte Observer. Sheriff’s officials say it’s necessary to keep troubled children from running away or disrupting court. Criticism of the practice has been growing, with litigation cropping up from Florida to California to North Dakota. This week, lawyers filed a motion in Greensboro, N.C., protesting the shackling of a 14-year-old girl facing larceny charges. They said the girl had been handcuffed by a molester, and that she cried during an court appearance when the shackles triggered flashbacks of the sexual assault.
As many as 30 children come to Mecklenburg’s juvenile court each week for hearings at which judges must decide whether they will remain in custody or be released while their cases move through the legal system. During hearings this week, children were shackled at the ankles with a thin chain that looked to be about 2 feet long. Children also are shackled during mental health commitment hearings — a fact officials with the nonprofit Council for Children’s Rights call disturbing. “A lot of times these kids have post-traumatic stress disorder,” said Valerie Pearce of the council. “And then you’re adding shackles. It just frightens them to death.” A spokeswoman for the Mecklenburg Sheriff’s Office said the policy is necessary because some juveniles are violent, and many would run away. Some fight during transport from juvenile jails, or turn rowdy in court. “They’re not the most disciplined kids. Some of them are meek and scared, but not many,” said spokeswoman Julia Rush. “These are not throwaway kids, but our experience has shown they will turn on you in a heartbeat.”