Court officials across the U.S. are debating rules that require metal shackles to be used on youths who appear at juvenile court hearings, says USA Today. At issue is whether kids as young as 10 need to be shackled for court security, and whether putting chains on young defendants not only makes them look like criminals but also makes them more likely to think of themselves that way. The U.S. Supreme Court has said that the sight of shackles on a defendant in a courtroom can unfairly influence a jury. In most juvenile proceedings, though, a defendant’s fate is in the hands of a judge, not a jury. Juvenile court procedures vary, but USA Today says that in 28 states, some juvenile courts routinely keep defendants in restraints during court appearances.
Routine shackling is a better-safe-than-sorry approach, many officials say. Teenage impulsiveness can lead to an escape attempt or an attack on a lawyer, judge, or spectator, and outdated security in some courtrooms and inadequate manpower heighten the risk. Judges in Miami-Dade County, Fl., ruled in December against routine shackling after the public defender pointed out that juveniles were shackled and adult defendants in similar situations were not. In March, Guilford County, N.C., Judge Joseph Turner decided not to end routine shackling after another teenager in chains, a 16-year-old boy, tried to escape custody while being driven to the courthouse. Connecticut juvenile courts stopped shackling youths in March, except when judges decide that certain children require restraints. In Portland, Or., being shackled meant youths had trouble handling paperwork and writing with their hands in cuffs, says Dale Koch, president of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges. It could have motivated them to agree to plea bargains simply to get out of shackles, he says. “Unfortunately, that is how their reasoning process works,” Koch says.