Juvenile Justice

Judge will end routine courtroom shackling of juveniles in detention, who can be as young as 6

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A judge in Durham, North Carolina, said Monday he will end his routine practice of shackling juveniles in his courtroom.

Judge Jim Hill issued a statement that said, as a general rule, youths will no longer enter his courtroom in restraints, the Herald Sun reported. When he is led to believe restraints may be needed, he will hold a hearing and make findings of fact before ordering their use, Hill said.

Hill’s announcement followed a recent story by the News & Observer and the Herald-Sun about shackling.

The newspapers reported that youths in juvenile detention, who can be as young as 6, were being routinely shackled in the Durham County court.

Critics had said the shackling may violate a 2007 North Carolina law that says judges may order courtroom restraints for juveniles only when needed to maintain order, prevent escape or ensure safety. Critics also said the restraints can cause psychological damage.

North Carolina was among the first states to pass a law or policy to stop routine shackling of kids in court.

The law says that, whenever practical, judges must allow juveniles and their lawyers to contest the use of restraints before they are ordered. If restraints are ordered, the judge must make findings of fact supporting the decision.

Thirty-one states and Washington, D.C., have rules or policies against routine shackling of juveniles, according to the News & Observer and the Herald-Sun.

Among those criticizing shackling is Hill’s election opponent, Clayton Jones. “You treat a child like an animal, they will behave like an animal,” Jones told the Herald Sun and the News & Observer. “We have to take those things off.”

Hill previously said the restraints are for the safety of juveniles, and he generally allows removal of handcuffs if a lawyer for the juvenile requests it.

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