“HARD TO watch.” That’s how. D.C. Council member David Grosso (I-At Large) described his visits to D.C. Superior Court to see the reality of a policy that required the use of restraints on incarcerated youth no matter their age or the nature of the offense. Routine shackling of youthful offenders has been abandoned by many jurisdictions as unnecessary, demeaning and counter to the juvenile justice system’s aim of rehabilitating, not punishing, youth. So good for Mr. Grosso and other District officials who managed to convince court officials to soften their rigid policy.
Instead of the blanket use of shackles on juveniles, an administrative order from Chief Judge Lee F. Satterfield will now require individual judges to make case-by-case determinations. If a judge decides restraints are necessary — reasons could include being disruptive or noncompliant or posing a risk — there must be a written finding of fact. Under the old policy, judges had the option to require the removal of restraints so that alternative security measures could be put in place. But according to lawyers who appear in the court, it was rarely used.
The order, which goes into effect Monday, is the result of efforts by Mr. Grosso, D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine (D) and council member Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5), chairman of the council’s judiciary committee. As Mr. McDuffie explained, those three men were able to get all stakeholders to collaborate on a solution that doesn’t sacrifice courtroom safety but makes the use of shackles a last resort.
It will be important to see if the order brings about real change or if judges continue to insist on the use of shackles. The proceedings of most juvenile cases are confidential, so it’s important that data be collected and made public. Mr. Grosso, who had threatened legislation to bring about change, said he will look to the city’s Public Defender Service and other advocates to gauge the impact of the order.
Rightly, he vowed if there is no change, he will be back with legislation.