The state’s current juvenile shackling policies permit juveniles’ accused of crimes to be handcuffed and shackled. On Thursday, the legislative task force, created to review department policy and recommend reforms, recommended limiting the situations in which juveniles can be restrained. A 19-member panel, made up of juvenile advocates, state legislators, state Department of Juvenile Services officials and public defenders, unanimously agreed that juveniles should not be bond in restraints, when being released or transported for home visits.
The panel also agreed the department should not detain juveniles under the age of 13 and juveniles shackled while traveling should have one hand free, when using the restroom. It also agreed the department should thoroughly document when it shackles juveniles and provide the information to the public accordingly.
The recommendations will be submitted to the General Assembly among others by the end of the year. The panel hopes the recommendations will cause the department juvenile strip-searching and shackling policies to be rewritten. The task force was created after the Baltimore Sun detailed the routine shackling and strip-searching youth in state custody, even those who were only detained briefly, not yet found delinquent and low-level offenders.
The state public defender, Paul DeWolfe, urged the task force to pass a resolution, one similar to the Maryland Judiciary Council, which urged judges to unshackle juvenile detainees appearing in court. This would leave the decision in the hand’s of the judge, only permitting the juvenile to be unshackled, if they are not classified as high-risk.
“That’s a lot of responsibility to put on a person who is going to be transporting them,” said state Senator Victor Ramirez, a Prince George’s County Democrat. “We’re asking them to try to predict something that’s going to happen on the ride.”
The panel proposed to the department to evaluate its transportation unit to see if it could be reorganized or whether, it could work with a private company that would be willing to transport juveniles, without restraints. The panel also recommended juveniles to be allowed a five-minute break every four hours, during transport, with a maximum of eight hours of being shackled.
Another recommendation by the task force was for youths to appear before a judge via a videoconference, instead of traveling to court. Public defenders called the recommendation “patently unconstitutional.” Video conferencing is only used for adult bail hearings and is not used anywhere else in the country for youth court cases.
The task force recommended the changes to be reviewed to determine whether additional staffing, equipment and funding for the department would be necessary. Senator C. Anthony Muse said cost should not be a barrier to reform, despite the state’s projected $400 million budget shortfall. He also went on to say, “It’s the responsibility of the legislature to get the resources, to press the governor and say, ‘this is for our kids, the safety of our staff and we want this money allocated.”