Children in shackles and black children in particular and in general claim public attention only for a short time, if at all. That alone might explain why it has taken nearly two years of pleading from Steven Teske (chief Judge of Clayton County, GA) to finally eliminate the indiscriminate use of juvenile shackling on kids in the courtroom.
In a ruling issued early April 2020, the court came down on the side of the juvenile court judges, and more importantly in the best interests of children.
Excited that there is a statewide rule, chief judge of Clayton County’s Juvenile Court said, but guarded because the rule doesn’t specify under what circumstances a kid may be restrained, leaving it to each of the state’s juvenile courts to decide.
“My experience with the practice of unshackling kids in court coupled with my nearly 21 years of serving as a juvenile court judge informs me with extreme confidence that there are only two reasons to use restraints on a kid during a court appearance,” the chief Judge said. “They are if he is a serious flight risk and a serious risk to disrupt the proceedings.”
The only kids that have needed restraints, he said, have been those who attempted an escape from the detention center or caused a serious disruption, including a riot.
Last year, only three youths met that criteria. Three.
Despite being handcuffed, most of the kids who find themselves before a judge aren’t violent criminals. Most are facing misdemeanor charges. Plus, in the nearly 30 states that restrict juvenile shackling, court business is conducted safely and efficiently.
A bill introduced in 2018 by Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver that would’ve banned shackling unless the judge considered a child dangerous didn’t even get a hearing.
Last year, Rep. Mandi Ballinger, chair of the Juvenile Justice Committee, introduced House Bill 438 and got a hearing but wasn’t allowed a vote.
With few exceptions, the chief Judge said, the state’s juvenile court judges all agree it’s harmful to shackle kids in court when there is no evidence to support the need for shackles.
As he did in 2015, the chief Judge suggested judges work collaboratively with their respective sheriff’s departments to come up with a “courtroom behavior contract” that they can support.
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