The Illinois Supreme Court has banned the use of shackles on juveniles when they appear before a judge.
The new rules, which take effect Nov. 1, indicate restraints may only be used in extreme circumstances, like when a child poses a safety or flight risk. It also requires a court hearing to prove the shackling is necessary.
Era Laudermilk, with the Illinois Justice Project, said there “is a lot of excitement in the juvenile justice world” over this decision.
“Mental health experts agree that shackling is very traumatic for a kid,” Laudermilk said. “It can result in youth … shutting down and not being able to pay attention to what’s happening in a very important proceeding.”
The Illinois Justice Project has found most juvenile court judges in Cook County already avoid using handcuffs and other chains. But Laudermilk said the practice is still rampant in much of the state.
Multiple state and national organizations, including the Illinois Justice Project, initially offered the proposed rule changes to the Supreme Court. According to a release from the court, the rules received “overwhelming support” from the Illinois Attorney General and other public officials. There had been were rules in place that adults not be shackled when appearing at a hearing where a determination of guilt could be made, but the same protections were not extended to children.
The result, experts said, was an uneven use of the heavy chains.
"The amendments adopted by the court will eliminate instances of indiscriminate shackling in juvenile delinquency proceedings that were occurring without an individualized judicial determination," Illinois Chief Justice Rita Garman said in a statement.
Betsy Clarke, the head of the Juvenile Justice Initiative, called the decision an “acknowledgment by the Supreme Court that children need special protection.”
“The use of shackles on children in court is less than first world. They are traumatic, they are unnecessary. … So this is eliminating what’s a very outmoded and really shameful practice,” Clarke said.
Patrick Smith is a WBEZ producer and reporter. Follow him @pksmid.