For years, the youth in juvenile justice systems have been subjected to two controversial practices: shackling and strip searches.
However, many states have banned one or both practices, with Maryland the most recent state to attempt to curtail shackling in the courtroom, the Baltimore Sun reported.
In Maryland, juvenile justice officials maintain that security remains the reason for shackling and strip searches — even for those detained briefly for low-level offenses. It is the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services’ policy that juveniles must still be shackled during disturbances within the facility and during any transport by staff, including to medical appointments.
Child psychiatrists note that both of these practices can have a lasting mental impact on the youth. With the treatment of juveniles in custody under debate around the country, many argue that these are vestiges of a broken system, according to the Sun article.
Last September, Maryland’s highest court passed a voluntary resolution giving judges discretion over when to shackle in the courtroom. However, the Sun reported many judges continue to defer to the policies of correctional officials. Public defenders argue before judges that shackles make the youth appear guilty and dangerous before the witnesses and even the judges themselves. In Maryland, the Sun wrote, “the complete set of chains can weigh eight to 25 pounds.” These include shackles around the ankles, which are linked with a chain. The youth’s wrists are also locked in handcuffs and attached to a chain draped around the youth’s waist. That is then secured with a black box and heavy padlock.
One youth, interviewed by the Sun about his court appearance, said of the shackles, “They feel like fire, like someone put hot metal into your skin. Even when they aren’t tight, they hurt when you walk,” he was facing a robbery charge for being with a group of boys when one of them stole a cellphone.
“You got your feet and your hands shackled like you’re a cold-blooded killer,” added the youth. “You feel like you don’t even have a fighting chance in the courtroom.”
In 2005, the Supreme Court stopped this practice for adults by ruling that it violates the due process rights of those who posed no flight or safety risks. The Supreme Court ruled that shackling caused individuals to appear guilty in the eyes of a judge or jury.
Twenty-three states have followed suit in cases involving children, by either passing laws or binding court resolutions.
In Maryland, juveniles are strip searched when they are admitted to detention facilities, after court dates, and visits with family and attorneys, reported the Sun.
To search for contraband, staff required juveniles to completely disrobe, squat and raise their arms.
“I felt violated,” a Baltimore girl said. “It made me feel like I did something wrong — I mean I did — but like I’d hurt somebody bad.”
Officials at Maryland’s Department of Juvenile Services say that both shackling and strip searches are considered best practices by the American Correctional Association.
Officials cite two escape attempts and the murder of a teacher in a facility over the past six years.
“For us, this is a life-and-death issue,” said Jay Cleary, Chief of Staff to Juvenile Services Secretary Sam J. Abed. “The community is counting on us to keep them safe and keep the youth safe,” he added.
Public defenders and child advocates want further reforms.
“These policies have nothing to do with any particular risk from a child,” said Sen. Dolores Kelley, who filed a bill that would have banned strip searches and limited shackling except in the case of a particular security threat.
“If you were to look at …’ cruel and unusual punishment,’ this is it,” she adde