Drake University Law School faculty and students were instrumental in a new Juvenile Court Rule banning the routine shackling of children in juvenile court.
Brent Pattison, clinical professor and director of the Joan and Lyle Middleton Center for Children’s Rights, led efforts in advocating for the rule. With the help of students in the Middleton Center and the Drake Children’s Rights Clinic, Pattison conducted research on the negative effects of restraints. They also reached out to juvenile defenders around the state through informal interviews and surveys.
“Students were troubled by seeing children—sometimes as young as 11 or 12—shackled in detention hearings,” Pattison said. “The children were shackled even if there was no individualized determination of the risk they presented in the courtroom. Sometimes they were there on really minor, nonviolent offenses.”
Joseph Reed, LW’17, worked as an intern for the Drake Children’s Rights Clinic in spring 2016, during which time he researched the shackling policies of other states. He also spoke with youths who had been involved in the juvenile court system, and they all expressed support for the policy change.
“When they were shackled in the courtroom, they felt that they were presumed to be guilty and that everyone was working against them,” Reed said. “This goes against the idea of the juvenile court system. The children should feel that everyone is working together toward a common goal of rehabilitation.”
After gathering research, the Middleton Center built a coalition of organizations—including the NAACP, American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, Youth Law Center, and Disabilities Rights Iowa—to craft a proposed juvenile court rule. The National Juvenile Defender Center, which tracks developments in the issue around the country, also provided assistance.
In a letter to Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady, Pattison wrote on behalf of the coalition, “Mental health experts have stated that shackling children unnecessarily humiliates, stigmatizes and traumatizes them. For young people at a critical stage of identity development, shackling can discourage the very growth in responsible behavior that the court is meant to encourage.”
Pattison also wrote that restraints make it difficult for children to participate in their own defense and effectively communicate with their attorneys or the judge. He explained that in states that eliminated shackling, there have been no breaches of security, and judges say their courtrooms function better.
After submitting the proposal to the Iowa Supreme Court, Pattison and students led trainings educating lawyers and judges about the need for the rule.
Third-year student Erin Romar co-presented with Pattison on the topic at the Juvenile Law Seminar and the Iowa State Bar Association Annual Meeting in spring 2017. Romar explained that there is a constitutional right to arrive in court without mandatory shackles. She also presented research on the psychological harm caused by the use of restraints.
“The juvenile court system is in place to help juveniles, not punish them,” Romar said. “When we place children in shackles that weigh up to 20 pounds, we are not helping them. It can exacerbate distress, undermine trust in adults, and trigger memories of past maltreatment.”
“Juveniles are more vulnerable to lasting harm from humiliation and shame than adults,” she added. “The shackling is detrimental to their present and future self.”
The proposed rule went to the Iowa Supreme Court’s Juvenile Rule’s Committee, which recommended adoption. After an opportunity for public comments, on Oct. 25 Chief Justice Cady issued an order prohibiting the routine use of shackles—including handcuffs, chains, irons, straitjackets, and cloth or leather restraints—on juveniles during court proceedings in Iowa.
Under the new rule, only a judge may order shackling if a child is a substantial flight risk or is in danger of harming him- or herself or other people in the courtroom.
The rule will become effective Jan. 1, 2018, pending a legislative council review. Iowa becomes the 30th state to ban or limit the practice.
“By changing how shackling takes place, it further differentiates the juvenile court system from the adult criminal system,” Reed said. “This rule lets children know that we are there to work with them instead of against them.”
“We are grateful to the Iowa Supreme Court and the Iowa Juvenile Rules Committee for adopting this rule and keeping the children’s wellbeing at the forefront,” Pattison said. “This rule was a long-time coming, and it is an important step in helping our youth trust the rehabilitative mission of the juvenile court.”