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Oregon Senate votes to ban shackled juveniles in court


The Oregon Senate unanimously passed a bill Monday that will unshackle juveniles when they attend court proceedings or when they are transported between foster homes or mental health treatment programs.

Senate Bill 846 – which passed with a 29-0 vote on the Senate floor – prohibits the use of physical restraints on youth in juvenile court proceedings. It also prohibits using physical restraints when youth are transported in the legal custody of the Oregon Health Authority or Oregon Department of Human Services, unless a court determines otherwise.

“Children do not belong in ankle shackles, handcuffs or belly chains. When I walked into a local courtroom and saw a young child in shackles last summer, I was stunned,” said Sen. Sara Gelser (D-Corvallis), who introduced and carried the bill. “Frightened kids need support, not chains. This is about the basic dignity of all kids and I’m so proud of advocates and public safety officials coming together to address this issue through SB 846.”

If restraints for some reason can’t be removed prior to the proceeding, the bill requires that they be removed prior to the court proceeding where the juvenile is appearing.

Restraints still would be allowed when they are necessary, such as situations when they are required for safe transportation or in cases of immediate and serious risks of danger. It also stipulates that restraints may not be used for punishment, convenience or as a substitute for staff supervision.

“This is a basic issue of fairness, decency and dignity for our children who find themselves in a tough spot,” Sen. Michael Dembrow (D-Portland) said. “Juveniles who are going through any kind of court proceeding are naturally going to be afraid and overwhelmed, feeling a whole range of emotions.

“Compounded with the fact that many of these children are in that position because of mental health issues or foster care needs, this is an important step to allow them to keep their dignity as they go through these already scary and heart-wrenching processes.”

Chief sponsor Sen. Kim Thatcher, R-Keizer, applauded her colleagues for passing the bill to put an end to the practice of unnecessarily shackling youth in courtrooms.

“Our juvenile justice system must focus on positive outcomes and this bill helps bring our justice system out of the dark ages,” Thatcher said. “Both sides of the aisle agree we do not want to see indiscriminate shackling and belly-chaining youth in court for non-violent crimes. Oregonians need to know that policy work can bring together both sides of the aisle and public policy shouldn’t be about politics. I’m looking forward to the bill being signed into law.”

According to the National Juvenile Defender Center, “When youth are not automatically restrained in court, they have better communication with all parties in the courtroom and understanding of the process, can participate in their own defense, and the rehabilitative purpose of juvenile court may be met.”

“Youths who contact the justice system typically have experienced far more numerous and severe traumatic events in their young lives and are disproportionately more likely to suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or other mental or emotional disorders when compared to other youth in the general population,” said Youth, Rights & Justice Executive Director Mark McKechnie.

According to Amy Miller with the Oregon Office of Public Defense Services, “Since the 1995 opinion in Millican, the issue of shackling juveniles has prompted much discussion, debate, and reform in Oregon and across the county. According to the National Juvenile Defender Center’s Campaign Against Indiscriminate Juvenile Shackling, 23 states have limited juvenile shackling through legislation, court rule, or case law. Oregon is the only western region state which has not limited indiscriminate juvenile shackling.”

John Collins, the presiding judge of the Yamhill County Circuit Court, explained in his opinion, “The report also points out that ‘shackling of juveniles in courtroom proceedings is antithetical to the juvenile court goal of rehabilitation and treatment.’ Psychological and medical experts have rendered opinions in pleadings and evidentiary hearings in jurisdictions where this issue has been litigated. They opine that children suffer emotionally, psychologically and medically when held in restraints similar to those used in this county.”

Senate Bill 846 now goes to the House for consideration.

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