CHICAGO — The Illinois Supreme Court announced Thursday that it has adopted rule changes banning the automatic shackling of child suspects in state courtrooms, a move that comes in the wake of criticism nationwide that the use of handcuffs, leg irons, belly chains and other restraints on juveniles is far too common, frequently dehumanizing and counterproductive.
The rule changes in Illinois stress that the default position by judges should not be to shackle children and that an order to restrain a child defendant can only be issued after a judge makes a clear, carefully considered finding that the juvenile poses a threat to himself or herself or to others. The changes take effect Nov. 1.
Drives to end the routine shackling of juveniles have gained momentum nationwide, according to the Campaign Against Indiscriminate Juvenile Shackling, which is linked to the National Juvenile Defender Center based in Washington, D.C. Its website indicates that around half of U.S. states prohibit the automatic restraining of juveniles appearing in court.
The changes in Illinois, Chief Justice Rita Garman said in a statement, “will eliminate instances of indiscriminate shackling of minors.”
The Illinois Justice Project, a nonprofit advocacy group, praised the measures.
“Putting boys and girls in leg irons and belly chains should only be done as a last resort,” it said in a statement. “It humiliates and traumatizes children and it is heartbreaking for their families.”
During a court rules committee hearing in July, critics said many Illinois courts ordered shackles placed on children regardless of their personal histories or alleged crimes. Restraints, other said, can make it practically impossible for juveniles to take part in their own defense, including because it impedes note-taking. A clinical psychologist told the hearing that shackling can humiliate and agitate children to such a degree that disruptive behavior becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
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