About This Issue

In juvenile courts throughout the nation, children are forced to appear weighed down by handcuffs, leg irons, and belly chains. They appear this way not because they pose a threat to others in the courtroom or are a flight risk; instead, most jurisdictions indiscriminately shackle all youth in juvenile court, often without any probable cause finding that they have committed an offense.

The practice of restraining youth is not necessary to maintain safety and order in juvenile courts, and it humiliates, stigmatizes, and traumatizes young people. Shackling youth is inconsistent with the rehabilitative goals of the juvenile legal system, offends due process, and negatively affects a child’s physical and mental health. It also biases judges and juries against the child.

In 2009, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the indiscriminate shackling of children is “repugnant, degrading, humiliating, and contrary to the stated primary purposes of the juvenile justice system and to the principles of therapeutic justice.” In recent years, there has been a trend toward eliminating the indiscriminate shackling of youth in juvenile court. However, even after these reforms are adopted, implementation often requires vigilance on the part of the youth defense bar to ensure courts do not continue the practice.

Our Position

The indiscriminate shackling of children in courtroom proceedings should be prohibited. Shackling is unnecessary and inherently dehumanizing, and no child should appear in court with shackles unless a judge expressly finds on the record, after full oral argument, that there is no less restrictive means of keeping the youth or the public out of harm’s way or of preventing the youth’s escape. Youth defenders must argue against the indiscriminate shackling of their clients and advocate for fairness, due process rights, and the child’s well-being at all times—including while they are appearing in court.