Iowa Chief Justice Bans Routine Shackling of Kids in Court

Oct 26, 2017

Iowa Chief Justice Mark Cady Thursday issued an order for Iowa courts to follow, banning the routine use of restraints on juveniles during court proceedings.       

Advocates for juvenile offenders, including Drake University’s Middleton Center for Children’s Rights and the ACLU, recommended the change.

They note that in some Iowa counties, juveniles routinely appear before judges in handcuffs and shackles.  

This change has been a long time coming. -Drake University Professor Brent Pattison

“We talked to a lot of people on the impact shackling has on their clients and kids and their families, too,” Middleton Center Director Brent Pattison said.   “This change has been a long time coming.”

In Polk County, for example, according to Youth Law Center Executive Director Mark Sorsi, currently juveniles are shackled from the jail to the courthouse, and into the courtroom.

It's hard to make contact with the judge when you're changed up like an animal. -Polk County juvenile offender "Lizzie"

“Then it would be up to the judge to make the determination to have the child unshackled in the courtroom,” Sorsi said.   “Now the juvenile court officer or the county attorney will have to before the court hearing approach the court and ask the court to allow for the shackling during the proceeding.”

Under the rule, county attorneys or juvenile court officers will have the opportunity to argue that restraints are needed because of a flight risk or to protect the safety of the defendant and others.

“Any restraint of children in the courtroom must balance legitimate security needs against the care, protection, and positive mental and physical development of the child,” the new rule reads.

The ACLU of Iowa has publicized the case of an Iowa girl, identified only as Lizzie, who experienced being shackled in an Iowa courtroom.

According to the ACLU account, she was charged with attempted burglary, pot possession, and harassing an officer in Polk County.  

I...believe the decision should be made by the juvenile court officer. -Asst. Polk County Atty Andrea Vitzthum

For court appearances, her hands were in metal cuffs, connected to a chain that went through a waistbelt, connected to shackles on her feet.  

“It’s hard to even make eye contact with the judge when you’re chained up like an animal,” Lizzie said. 

The court’s Advisory Committee on Rules of Juvenile Procedure signed off on the new rule.

One committee member wrote dissenting comments.

“I continue to believe that the decision should be made by the Juvenile Court Officer and that the County Attorney and the child’s attorney should equally be able to seek review of that decision with the Court,” wrote Assistant Polk County Attorney Andrea Vitzthum.   Vitzthum said her comments reflect the concerns of the Iowa County Attorneys Association.  

Several national groups including the American Bar Association have come out against restraining children in court.

Iowa becomes the 30th state to ban or restrict the practice.     

Follow Joyce Russell on twitter:   @russell_ipr