- Associated Press - Saturday, February 14, 2015

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - National child advocacy groups are pushing to end the routine shackling of juveniles facing charges in the Louisville court system.

The Courier-Journal (https://cjky.it/1DYyi95) reports the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges released a report recently that criticized the Jefferson County policy to chain every juvenile for each court appearance. The group called for judges to make decisions on a case-by-case basis.

Under the current policy, all juveniles - regardless of age or offense - have their hands cuffed to a chain around their stomach. Their feet remain free.

The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office opposes any change, saying juveniles pose as much of a danger as adults.

“These are not kids,” said Major Gerald Bates, who runs courthouse security for the Jefferson County sheriff’s office. “This isn’t Sunday school. This is jail, this is court.”

The current policy was put into place in 2011 after an unchained juvenile was able to escape a holding cell.

Juvenile justice advocates say “indiscriminate shackling” humiliates children and is conflicts with the intention of rehabilitating troubled youth.

“When you treat kids like animals, as criminals, they feel that way, and they’re going to act that way,” said David Shapiro, with the National Juvenile Defender Center.

Advocates say only high-risk juvenile offenders should be chained for court.

“Instead of just being tough with these kids, we need to be smart with these kids,” said Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates. “I’m not some radical purist, you won’t hear me say never should a kid be shackled. But I think it should be rare, on a case-by-case basis.”

Shapiro says treating children like criminal makes them more prone to act that way, but Col. Carl Yates with the sheriff’s office says he’s experienced the opposite. He said juveniles used to get into fights with each other and sometimes with deputies - but such skirmishes are rare now.

“These belly chains do not hurt anyone, they keep people from being hurt,” Yates said. “We cannot let our guard down simply because of someone’s age. Our deputies are in the trenches, they deal with these prisoners - and that’s exactly what they are.”

In the middle of January, there were 39 boys and six girls were being held at the city’s juvenile detention center, where records show that most were 16 or 17 years old, though the youngest was 12.

According to records, they were being held on a variety of charges ranging from murder to disorderly conduct.

Jefferson County Youth Detention Services Director Clarence Williams, describes his charges as troubled youths.

“It’s not that they’re more prone to bad decisions, they just have more bad options than other kids,” Williams said. “My guess is that if I would have gotten caught for everything I did as a child, I probably wouldn’t have this job right now. I think a lot of us have made some reckless decisions as children.”


Information from: The Courier-Journal, https://www.courier-journal.com

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