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Sunday, December 20, 2009

No More Routine Shackling of Juveniles in Custody, Court Rules

Juveniles should be handcuffed or shackled during court appearances only if judges have a good reason for the restraints, the Florida Supreme Court said Friday, about thirty years late.

The justices followed recommendations by the National Juvenile Defender Center. Under the guidelines the court issued Thursday, judges can order juveniles to appear in chains if allowing them unrestrained would endanger them or others, if they have a history of being disruptive or if there is a risk of flight. Why was it ever any other way?

Stop and think a moment, those of you who have been coming to the courthouse for decades? Has it not been very odd the way children locked up in the detention center have been paraded through the hallways of our courts like prisoners in a chain gang?

Those that are threats, flight risks, or present a danger, sure, align your guard and take preventative measures. But for how many years have we simply treated kids as cattle?

"We find the indiscriminate shackling of children in Florida courtrooms . . . repugnant, degrading, humiliating, and contrary to the stated purposes of the juvenile justice system and to the principles of therapeutic justice, a concept which this court has previously acknowledged," the Supreme Court said.

The keyword was 'indiscriminate.' There was no rhyme or reason, just a tolerated pattern of conduct none of us ever did anything about. We just accepted it as the 'way that it was.'

In retrospect, as someone who actually once sued to close the juvenile detention center, not once, but twice, I am embarrassed myself that I never sought that relief years earlier. Between all the judges, juvenile advocates, the National Law Center, I think we all just became routinely anesthetized and indifferent; never even processed how wrong the process was. Well some lawyers did and today they made a difference.

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