At the direction of Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, court personnel met with concerned parties last year to discuss how Ohio judges and those in other states handle the shackling of juveniles during court appearances. A survey found that it happens far more frequently in Ohio than elsewhere.
As a result, the Supreme Court adopted a rule creating “a presumption against shackling” but not an outright ban. It takes effect July 1.
Individual courts can still use restraints if a judge or magistrate thinks a juvenile’s behavior poses a threat or if he or she is a flight risk.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio called the new rule “a major victory” in reforming the Ohio juvenile justice system.
“Juvenile courts are supposed to have a mission to rehabilitate, but shackling a child for no reason only inflicts trauma on them,” said Shakyra Diaz, ACLU policy manager. “This rule will finally require that each child has an individualized assessment before a court decides whether they should be shackled. Ending automatic shackling assures that children receive the same due process protection in courts as adults. This rule allows them to appear in court in a dignified manner, free of restraints.”
Kim Brooks Tandy, executive director of the Children’s Law Center in Covington, Ky., called the new rule “an excellent step by the court to balance the need for safety and security against harm to the child by the restraints.”
“The shackling of youth in juvenile court proceedings has been widespread in Ohio, as well as in other states, without regard to the psychological and possible physical harm being done to the child. In the vast majority of instances, it is unnecessary for the safety of those in the courtroom or to minimize the risk of a youth attempting to flee,” Tandy said.
All Supreme Court justices agreed with the ruling except Justice Terrence O’Donnell.
“This rule will not affect the transfer of juvenile offenders into or out of the courtroom but only their appearance while in the courtroom,” he wrote in dissent. Some court officials “express concern for public safety, the possibility of escape, and the burden of holding additional hearings to make findings, which will add to an already busy docket, whenever a judge feels a necessity to make a record to overcome the presumption the court imposes in adopting this rule.”
The Ohio Judicial College will provide training to judges, magistrates and court employees on the new rule.