“Humility is a virtue. Humiliation, however, is something altogether different. It is important that juveniles be held accountable for their actions. But humiliating children does not improve their behavior or help them make restitution. Shackling undermines the basic human dignity of these young people and the dignity of the justice system itself. The sooner we limit this harmful practice, the better.” – Pat Nolan
Juveniles all over America are shackled for the smallest of crimes. Even though juveniles pose no flight risk, threat of self-harm, or threat of violence, we continue to unnecessarily shackle these children in our justice system. Miami-Dade County, Florida recently proved the futility of this policy. The county eliminated the automatic shackling of its juveniles, and in the five years following this elimination, none of the 20,000 juveniles funneled through the courtroom and correctional facilities escaped or harmed anyone. If we continue to shackle children without valid reason, we also continue to traumatize them, decrease their sense of dignity, and increase their chances of reoffending later in life. Ultimately, shackling is a lose-lose for everyone involved - it provides no additional safety to the juvenile or the community while unnecessarily humiliating these children in need of guidance.
Our legal system recognizes that juveniles are not adults - yet many children are tried in adult courts and sent to adult prisons. This exposes children to adult criminals who have committed more serious crimes during the child’s most formative years. This exposure increases juveniles’ chances of recidivism and drastically increases the chances of turning these juveniles into career criminals instead of providing them with the targeted rehabilitation they need. The state of Missouri passed a bill in 2018 that raised the age of “adulthood” to over 18, allowing 17 and 18-year olds to remain in juvenile, instead of adult, facilities. More states need to follow in these footsteps to avoid seeing these children return to prison as adults. Even at 17 and 18, juveniles are still developing and do not have always have the same ability as adults to make clear decisions. Juvenile systems can rehabilitate and guide these children, while adult facilities focus more on punishment instead of reformation. In a world full of broken families, the state should focus on rehabilitation to create better lives for delinquent children, rather than trying them as fully developed and understanding adults. The State of Pennsylvania has also made great strides in this area, creating a Juvenile Justice Task Force to help direct them in creating new policy. The task force found that, as a general rule, juveniles do better when they live at home, not when are in out out-of-home placement programs. Services for youth living at home are also less expensive, freeing up money to be reinvested in more effective juvenile justice strategies. These recommended strategies include:
Interventions in every county for schools, law enforcement offices, restorative justice practitioners and other stakeholders to divert kids from the juvenile court
Expanded high-quality nonresidential alternatives to out-of-home placement for young people under juvenile court supervision
Grant-in-aid for county probation offices to increase local compliance with JCJC standards
Support for victims by filling restitution funds