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Editorial Advisory Board: A bold step by the Judiciary

The Maryland Judicial Council, the policy making body for the Maryland courts under the leadership of the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals, passed a resolution last month to cut the chains that have shackled juvenile offenders detained in the custody of the Maryland Department of Juvenile Justice who appear in the Maryland court system.

Consider this. In most states, including several Maryland circuit courts until a few weeks ago, detained juveniles were automatically shackled in court without any proof of flight risk or safety concerns. Yet courts have recognized the rights of adults not to be shackled at trial except for compelling security purposes.

According to the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services, there were 11,901 court dispositions of juvenile complaints in 2014. Some may have entailed more than one court appearance. In many of them, the children were in handcuffs, waist chains, ankle restraints, zip ties or other restraints that are designed to impede movement or control behavior without proof that such restraint was necessary.

In 64 percent of these cases, the court disposition was dismissal/closure, continuance, transfer, nolle pros or other procedural dispositions, and approximately 12 percent of the cases resulted in the children being given probation. In only 1,196 cases – about 10 percent – was there a commitment to the Department of Juvenile Services.

Those numbers alone would make one question the decision of some circuit court administrative judges to shackle every detained juvenile offender appearing in court. The Maryland Judicial Council answered that question by adopting as a policy “the presumption against the shackling of children during proceedings in Juvenile Court.”

Maryland joins 20 other state-court systems that have moved to end the automatic shackling of juvenile detainees in court. As the “Resolution Regarding Shackling of Children in Juvenile Court” states, Maryland’s judicial leadership has joined the policy shift because “shackling of children…may infringe on the presumption of innocence, undermine confidence in the fairness of our justice system, interfere with the rights to a fair trial.” As the resolution states, shackling not only undermines the notion of fairness, it is harmful and traumatizing to children and “contrary to the goals of juvenile justice.”

It was time to put a stop to shackling children in court, and the Maryland Judiciary has done just that. That bold step deserves accolades. We give them here to Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera and the Maryland Judiciary.

EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD MEMBERS

James B. Astrachan, Chair

Wesley D. Blakeslee

Arthur F. Fergenson

Daniel F. Goldstein

Caroline Griffin

Elizabeth Kameen

Ericka King

Stephen Meehan

C. William Michaels

William Reynolds

Norman Smith

Tracy L. Steedman

H. Mark Stichel

Ferrier R. Stillman

Anwar L. Young

The Daily Record Editorial Advisory Board is composed of members of the legal profession who serve voluntarily and are independent of The Daily Record. Through their ongoing exchange of views, members of the Board attempt to develop consensus on issues of importance to the Bench, Bar and public. When their minds meet, unsigned opinions will result. When they differ, majority views and signed rebuttals will appear. Members of the community are invited to contribute letters to the editor and/or columns about opinions expressed by the Editorial Advisory Board.

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