Criminal justice, especially juvenile justice, is all about rehabilitation, says Rep. Jamie Long (DFL-Mpls).
“When kids come into contact with the criminal justice system, we should do all we can to provide fair and appropriate treatment tailored to the individual and also set them up for long-term success,” he said.
Shackling kids during court appearances is neither fair nor appropriate treatment, and it needs to stop, Long told the House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance and Policy Committee Thursday.
He sponsors HF922, which would prohibit the use of restraints on children appearing in court unless the court finds that there are no less restrictive alternatives available, and the use is necessary to prevent physical harm to the child or another, or to prevent the child from fleeing.
“The humiliation and trauma of shackling a child can have long-term harmful effects,” Long said. “This is a practice we should avoid whenever possible.”
By an 18-0 vote, the committee approved HF922, as amended, and sent it to the House Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Committee. The companion, SF898, sponsored by Sen. Ron Latz (DFL-St. Louis Park), awaits action by the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee.
“Many youth in the justice system have experienced physical and sexual abuse, making them even more susceptible to the negative trauma of shackling,” the National Juvenile Justice Network stated in a letter to the committee.
“Given the legacy of discrimination in America, the trauma from shackling is especially damaging to youth of color,” the statement said. “The image of African-American youth being shackled in court has been likened to images of slaves on the auction block, not of children presumed to be innocent in a court of law.”
That interference with the presumption of innocence “raises due process concerns,” Long said, and is a major reason he is sponsoring the proposed legislation.
Katrinna Dexter, director of Juvenile Justice Reform at the Department of Corrections, said handcuffs, ankle shackles, and belly belts can be used in Minnesota courtrooms and correctional facilities to restrain people.
Under current law, she said, the presumption is that any defendant, including juveniles, appearing in court will be restrained by shackles or another device.
The bill would remove that presumption for juveniles, she said, and a restraint decision would be made on a case-by-case basis by the presiding judge with input from other court personnel familiar with the defendant’s past behavior.
In consultation with law enforcement organizations, Dexter said, the bill would not affect transport situations, where the presumption of restraint would remain.
Other provisions in the bill
The bill contains three other “overdue, common-sense updates to our juvenile justice system,” Long said.
It would remove the statutory requirement that a court open up hearings in juvenile proceedings when a child is alleged to have committed an offense that would be a felony if committed by an adult and the child is at least 16 years old.
An alternative to arrest would be available for a peace officer to divert a child to a community-service or rehabilitation program approved by the law enforcement agency with jurisdiction over the child. If the child successfully completes such a program, the court would dismiss the charges against the child.
The bill would require all detained juveniles to undergo an “objective juvenile detention risk assessment instrument developed in coordination with the Minnesota Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative.”
The assessment would consider the likelihood that a juvenile will return to court or be a danger to others, and the bill would mandate releasing the child if the assessment determines that release is appropriate, if a release is also permissible under existing law.