BLOOMINGTON — The practice of bringing minors into the courtroom in shackles may change in Illinois under a proposed modification in juvenile court rules under consideration by the Illinois Supreme Court rules committee.
Retired 11th Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Beth Robb is among those scheduled to testify at a hearing Friday in Chicago in favor of the rule change to remove shackles from minors unless a judge determines that restraints are necessary.
If approved, Illinois will join 25 other states and the District of Columbia in adopting rules to end the indiscriminate shackling of minors in court.
Current rules allow for shackles on wrists and ankles except during the trial phase of juvenile proceedings.
Robb said restraints can do more harm than good to minors.
"Shackles can give the appearance of having done something wrong and further stigmatize kids," she said.
The reaction of parents to the sight of their child in shackles is palpable, added Robb, whose last assignment before her 2014 retirement was the juvenile courtroom.
"Parents were absolutely devastated. You could see it on their faces and in their body language. It's got to have even more of an impact on juveniles," she said.
Robb recalled that minors' handcuffs were removed, but ankle restraints were used under an agreement between the court and officers with the McLean County Juvenile Detention Center in Normal where the youths are held.
Kathy Jo Waltz, superintendent of the detention center, said restraints are standard protocol for transporting youth.
"Anybody who goes out of this building is handcuffed and shackled," said Waltz.
The unpredictable nature of teenagers has created some outbursts in the courtroom, said Waltz, noting she didn't have enough knowledge of the proposed new rule to comment further.
Associate Judge Brian Goldrick said he has followed the practice that was in place when he took over the juvenile caseload from Robb. Goldrick said he rarely notices if a minor's wrists are shackled after he or she sits down at the defense table.
A child's behavior at previous hearings may dictate their level of restraint, said the judge.
"It's one of the factors I would consider if it was brought up when the state was asking that the minor be restrained," said Goldrick.
Assistant Public Defender Art Feldman supports the change that he said puts minors in the same category as their adult counterparts, who are not shackled when they come to court from the county jail.
"The way I look at it is adults come in all the time unshackled. Why should we do it to kids?" said Feldman.
Shackling young offenders in court "is degrading and wholly unnecessary," said Elizabeth Clarke, president of the Juvenile Justice Initiative, a private advocacy group for youths in the criminal justice system.
The ability of minors to communicate with their lawyer and participate fully in proceedings can be hampered by restraints, said Clarke, who argued that shackles should be the exception, not the rule.
"The blanket policy of shackling all youth is unnecessary to any concerns about the protection of the court, which are best handled on an individual basis," said Clarke.
Christina Gilbert, staff attorney for the National Juvenile Defender Center's Campaign Against Indiscriminate Juvenile Shacking, said it's hard to avoid the prejudicial aspect that accompanies metal chains.
"There is a fairness issue. Children are already perceived to have been judged guilty when they are shackled," said Gilbert.
The juvenile court's focus on correction rather than punishment of minors also can be diminished when youth are restrained, she said.