District officials are expected to announce an initiative Friday that would end the D.C. Superior Court’s policy of routinely shackling juveniles who appear before judges, the plan’s sponsors announced Thursday.
Beginning Monday, individual judges will be solely responsible for deciding whether juveniles appearing before them should be in the two-pound metal shackles. The reasons for shackling a juvenile could range from noncompliance with orders to being disruptive.
The Washington Post first wrote about the efforts of defense attorneys to have the shackles removed from their clients last year. Court officials and judges have repeatedly argued against removing the shackles, saying the restraints ensure safety.
The administrative changes were part of an initiative led by D.C. Council members Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5), chairman of the council’s Judiciary Committee, and David Grosso (I-At Large) and Attorney General Karl A. Racine. All three are expected to announce the initiative at the courthouse at noon Friday.
For years, defense attorneys in the District have petitioned D.C. Superior Court judges to have the shackles removed from their clients during hearings. Defense attorneys argued that adults in the same courthouse were allowed to have restraints removed during their court proceedings.
And in other jurisdictions, such as Prince George’s, Montgomery and Fairfax counties, court officials determine on a case-by-case basis whether juveniles should be shackled during proceedings. In Fairfax and Montgomery, for example, shackles are removed once juveniles enter a courtroom, officials said. At least 12 states have banned the practice of indiscriminate shackling of juvenile offenders.
In a December opinion piece in The Post, Superior Court Chief Judge Lee F. Satterfield defended the court’s policy and wrote that the devices were needed to protect juvenile offenders from “becoming aggressive in the courtroom and attempting to escape from the building.”
But Satterfield would later join the working group that changed the rules. He was not available for comment Thursday.
The District is the only place in the country where U. S. marshals escort juvenile defendants. In other places, youth rehabilitation service officials, sheriffs deputies or police officers transport and oversee young defendants.
In recent months, McDuffie has publicly questioned the use of the restraints. Grosso has been seen touring juvenile hearings, reviewing the practice. And after being elected in November, Racine said that addressing the issue was among his priorities.
Defense attorneys from the National Juvenile Defender Center, D.C. Lawyers for Youth and the District’s Public Defender Service have argued that the shackles are demeaning and unnecessary in a system aimed more at rehabilitation than punishment.