This afternoon, Voices for Children Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice Policy Coordinator Juliet Summers testified in support of LB 212, which would end indiscriminate youth shackling in court.
All children have the right to be treated fairly before the law. Voices for Children in Nebraska supports LB 212, because it will greatly improve the treatment of children in our court system, with minimal risk or cost. It is consistent with known best practices in handling young offenders, and in line with a growing national movement that has proven success in other states.
LB 212, would end the practice of indiscriminately shackling children in juvenile court. Any handcuffs, foot chains, belly chains or straitjackets would be removed prior to court, unless a judge finds probable cause that the child presents a risk of harm or flight that only shackles could prevent.
Shackles interfere with a child’s ability to communicate with his lawyer and understand the proceedings. But the most harmful effects go far beyond that; they are humiliating and harmful to adolescent identity development, solidifying a child’s self-perception as a criminal.
A growing number of states have enacted similar reforms with great success. After this reform was enacted in Florida’s Miami-Dade County, more than 20,000 youths appeared in court without shackles between 2006 and 2011. None escaped, and no one was harmed.
Nebraska has come a long way toward realigning our juvenile justice system to best respond to youth behavior and keep our communities safe. This session, we should embrace continued efforts to improve outcomes for all young people in the state — so we can stop the harmful practice of the criminalization of youth behavior.