Q: What is shackling?
A: Shackling is a way to physically restrain someone by using handcuffs, leg irons, belly chains, or any combination of them. Before the Supreme Court of Ohio adopted the “local restraint rule” (Superintendence Rule 5.01) in July 2016, children could be automatically shackled during juvenile court hearings if they were brought to court from detention. This routine practice occurred regardless of the child’s age, size, weight, behavior, or the charge that had been brought against the child. Also, courts did not have to first determine whether the child was a flight risk or posed a danger.
Q: Were shackling rules the same for both adults and children?
A: No. The U.S. Supreme Court has long held that adult defendants have the right to appear before a jury unshackled. Since children do not have the right to trial by jury, it was accepted that they could appear in court in shackles.
Q: Why were children shackled in juvenile court?
A: A number of juvenile courts strongly believed that individual judges should decide whether a child should be shackled in the courtroom, and that any procedural rule or legislation was unnecessary. There was disagreement about whether shackles harmed children, and there were concerns that unshackled children might flee the courtroom or harm themselves or others. Many juvenile courts are separate from the main courthouse in older buildings without safety and security measures to protect against flight or violent behavior, and because children are naturally impulsive, it is difficult to predict how a child will behave in court.
Q: Why did the Supreme Court pass the local restraint rule against automatically shackling children?
A: The national Campaign Against Indiscriminate Juvenile Shackling (CAIJS) inspired advocates across the country to speak out against the indiscriminate shackling of children in court, and many states began to pass legislation or procedural rules against automatic shackling. The Supreme Court of Ohio developed a subcommittee to study the issue of shackling in Ohio and make recommendations. The subcommittee included juvenile court judges and magistrates, county court personnel, Capital University Law School, the Ohio Department of Youth Services, and advocates, including the ACLU of Ohio, Juvenile Justice Coalition, and the Office of the Ohio Public Defender. After reviewing these recommendations and thousands of public comments, as well as the findings of a statewide survey, the Supreme Court of Ohio debated the pros and cons of a proposed rule change, and finally recommended its “local restraint rule” on March 28, 2016. The rule became effective in July.
Contributing to the case for a rule change was documentation from the National Prevention Science Coalition, which showed that children who have been shackled have felt like “criminals” and “slaves.” Also, the National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice found that indiscriminate shackling of children can deepen depression, exacerbate other mental health conditions, and “may trigger memories of past maltreatment and specifically exacerbate post-traumatic symptoms such as anger, anxiety, dissociation, mistrust and non-compliance.”
Children do not have the right to a trial by jury in juvenile court, but they are presumed innocent until found guilty, and have the right to due process and the effective assistance of counsel. Studies show that children who are shackled in court do not present themselves as well as children who are not shackled. Also, shackling has been shown to adversely affect children’s ability to effectively communicate with their counsel and the court, as well as their ability to listen and absorb information. Children have a statutory right to the juvenile justice system’s goals, which state that the court is there to provide for the care, protection, and mental and physical development of children.
Q: What does the Ohio Supreme Court’s rule require courts to do?
A: Each court must develop a local rule creating a presumption against shackling. This means that the local court’s rule should allow juvenile shackling only when “there is no less restrictive alternative to the use of physical restraint” because the child poses “a current and significant threat to the safety of the child’s self or other persons in the courtroom” or there is a “significant risk the child will flee the courtroom.” If physical restraints are deemed necessary, the least restrictive restraint should be used and should not “unnecessarily restrict the movement of the child’s hands.”
Q: Where can I learn more about shackling?
This “Law You Can Use” consumer legal information column was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association (OSBA). It was prepared by attorneys Charlyn Bohland and Jill Beeler of the Ohio Public Defender’s Office.