The Michigan Supreme Court on July 28, 2021 significantly limited when handcuffs, shackles and other restraints can be used on young people when they appear in court.
The new court rule, which goes into effect Sept. 1, states that juveniles cannot be put in restraints unless a judge finds it is necessary for one of three reasons: to prevent physical harm to the young person or others; because the juvenile has a history of disruptive courtroom behavior; or there is a strong reason to believe the juvenile will flee the courtroom.
Michigan joins 31 other states and the District of Columbia in prohibiting or limiting the shackling of youth in courts through legislation or court rules, according to the National Juvenile Defender Center. In Michigan, judges will have to decide whether restraints are necessary before the young person enters the courtroom. The juvenile’s attorney must have the opportunity to be heard on the issue and judges must state on the record or in writing the facts supporting a decision to use restraints.
Michigan’s practice of shackling youth was highlighted in a ProPublica investigation last year about the case of Grace, a 15-year-old Black teenager from suburban Detroit who was placed in detention when she violated probation by not doing her online schoolwork during the pandemic. Grace, who was on probation for earlier charges of assault and theft, appeared at a court hearing in June 2020 with her wrists handcuffed together and her ankles shackled although there was no evidence she posed a physical or flight risk. She struggled to turn the pages of a statement she had written.
“The humiliation and trauma of shackling my child has harmful effects that we will never be able to forget or reconcile as humane and appropriate treatment,” Grace’s mother said Wednesday after learning about the new court rule. “This traumatic experience is the legacy of discrimination in America and is especially damaging to youth of color. It resembled unforgettable images of slaves on the auction block.”
The Michigan Court of Appeals ordered Grace’s release a year ago this week, less than three weeks after the ProPublica investigation. The Michigan Supreme Court proposed the rule on juvenile restraints late last year and held a public hearing in March before announcing its final decision Wednesday.
The change comes as Michigan officials have pledged to improve the way the state handles young offenders. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, announced last month the creation of the Task Force on Juvenile Justice Reform and asked it to collect data from the state and its counties to better understand how Michigan treats juveniles who break the law, and to propose ways to reduce the number of young people in the system.
A ProPublica investigation last year found Michigan incarcerates young people for probation violations and noncriminal offenses more than almost any other state. The investigation brought to light systemic flaws in the state’s decentralized juvenile justice system and revealed that Michigan keeps such poor data that it can’t say how many juveniles it has in custody at any given time or why they have been detained.
Whitmer’s office announced the members of the task force last week. The group, chaired by Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, a Democrat, is expected to announce its findings and recommendations for legislative, funding and other policy changes by July 2022.
Source: “Michigan Supreme Court limits use of restraints on juveniles“, Bridge, July 29, 2021.