Wednesday, August 3, 2016

End Shackling of Juveniles in Court - NJ Supreme Court Working Group Says

New Jersey appears ready to join twenty four states in barring the routine shackling of juveniles in its courtrooms.  A New Jersey Supreme Court ‘Working Group’ has recommended an end to the routine restraint of youth during their court appearances in New Jersey’s family courts.  In a victory for National Juvenile Defender Center's Campaign Against Indiscriminate Juvenile Shackling (CAIJS) the Group - headed by Middlesex County Family Part Judge Deborah Venezia - calls for the state’s Supreme Court to adopt a rule establishing a presumption against shackling with chains, cuffs and other restraints.

Adult criminal defendants are not shackled in court absent extraordinary circumstances but some time in the past thirty five years it became the norm for juvenile defendants.  Prominent lawyers, including a retired member of the state’s high court have told me they were unaware of the practice.  So was I.  I am sure that in the poor neighborhoods of our cities it is common knowledge. When I handled some juvenile criminal cases for the Public Defender early in my career one of my clients was restrained - though they were detained and headed to jail.

Shackling youthful offenders is a subjugation ritual intended to humiliate the youth.  It has been shown to be traumatic and alarming.  In juvenile court the accused’s mother is usually present, often reading a bible as she watches some Old Testament justice administered. If one wanted to entrench resentment of law enforcement this practice would be recommended.

One of the hallmarks of police culture is, of course, an excess of self-protective caution.  Law enforcement witnesses argued to the Working Group that safety demanded shackling.  But the twenty four states that have restricted the practice demonstrate otherwise.  The Venezia task force considered data from other jurisdictions that now prohihit indiscriminate shackling:

• Miami Dade County, Florida, eliminated routine shackling in 2006
and since then, 25,000 unshackled youth have come to court without injury or escape. In Travis County, Texas, more than 3,000 detention hearings per year in 2013 and 2014 were conducted, and no youths were shackled. In 2014, in Boulder, Colorado, there were three cases where restraints were used out of 534 cases, and there were no reported incidents.

In my opinion there is little doubt that the Supreme Court will adopt in some form the Rule recommended by the Working Group commissioned by Chief Justice Stuart Rabner.  The court has posted the Report for public comment. The comment period ends August 26, 2016.

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