State legislatures and courts across the country also are re-examining the practice of placing juveniles in solitary confinement and shackling youth during court appearances without first assessing each juvenile's individual behavior.
On Jan. 26, 2016, President Barack Obama announced a ban on solitary confinement for juvenile offenders in the federal prison system.
Solitary confinement, or “seclusion,” is the most extreme form of isolation in a detention setting and can include physical and social isolation in a cell for 22 to 24 hours per day. The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry says solitary confinement of juveniles can lead to depression, anxiety and even psychosis. In recent years, seven states have passed laws that limit or prohibit the use of solitary confinement for youth in detention facilities. For example, Connecticut law states that no child at any time shall be held in solitary confinement, but “seclusion” may be used periodically if authorized and the young person is checked every thirty minutes. Ten states have enacted legislation that limits or prohibits the use of solitary confinement. The other states have the limits or prohibitions in administrative policy or court rules.
Use of Shackles at Court Appearances
Shackles are physical restraints that can include handcuffs, straitjackets, leg irons, belly chains and others. According to the National Juvenile Defender Center, the practice of restraining youth who pose no safety threat can humiliate, stigmatize and traumatize young people. In many jurisdictions, young people are automatically shackled for court appearances, even if they are accused only of misdemeanor, non-violent or status offenses. Proponents of shackling argue it is a necessary security procedure to protect the judge, lawyers and other court room observers from a possible flight risk. Laws, court decisions or rules in 24 states and the District of Columbia prohibit the use of unnecessary restraints. South Carolina enacted legislation in 2014 that prohibits the use of restraints for juveniles appearing in court, unless the judge finds they are necessary to prevent harm and no less restrictive alternatives are available.