Juvenile offenders will no longer be shackled in court unless specifically needed to protect those in the courtroom, if a bill being considered by the state legislature is passed. However, a policy shift at the state’s Judicial Branch scheduled to take effect this week does the same thing.
Members of the legislature’s Judiciary Committee heard testimony Monday on House Bill 7050, which would prohibit children for being shackled or restrained before adjudication, unless a judge deems it dangerous for a particularly violent juvenile offender to be unrestrained.
The measure would make law a policy the state’s Judicial Branch plans to implement as of April 1, which would make the proposed measure moot, according to Bernadette Conway, the state Judicial Branch’s chief administrative judge for juvenile matters.
“The policy presumes that all mechanical restraints will be removed from a juvenile prior to and throughout the juvenile’s appearance in juvenile court, unless a judge determines that the juvenile poses an immediate and present physical danger to himself, herself or others,” Conway wrote in written testimony on the proposed measure.”
Therefore, though the Judicial Branch agrees with the intention of the bill, Conway said it is “not necessary.”
But a policy is simply not good enough, according to Susan Storey, Connecticut’s chief public defender.
“Policies come and go,” Storey told committee members Monday. “We really feel it needs the stamp of approval from the legislature to have the effect statewide.”
According to the Office of Policy and Management, 10,717 individuals were referred to the state’s juvenile courts in 2014, a drop of 21.3 percent since 2007.
“They say it’s for the protection of everyone in the court but it’s also humiliating for the children,” Storey said. “I find it a very offensive practice.”
Supervisory Assistant State’s Attorney Francis J. Carino, who told committee members that he has been “involved in the prosecution of kids for 30 years,” said shackles are there to protect judges. A violent juvenile offender, unrestrained, might use the opportunity to throw a chair in court.
“These things have happened,” he said.
Connecticut is not the only government discussing shifts in laws governing mandatory shackling of juveniles. In February, the American Bar Association issued a resolution urging governments to adopt a presumption against the use of restraints on juveniles in court and to permit a court to allow such use only after providing the juvenile with an in-person opportunity to be heard and finding that the restraints are the least restrictive means necessary to prevent flight or harm to the juvenile or others.”
David Shapiro, of the Campaign Against Indiscriminate Juvenile Shackling, told committee members that South Carolina, Alaska, and Washington has already adopted similar measures.
He called mandatory juvenile shackling an “unnecessary and harmful practice.”
“Shackles have a direct impact on youth the moment they step into the courtroom,” Shapiro said. “What we have seen, however, is that administrative policies are not enough. They provide little accountability and are easily altered, or even reversed. In juvenile court, where so much is confidential—and for good reason—the protection provided by statute is needed most.”