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January 26, 2010 permalink

For at least fourteen years all juveniles transported to and from courts in New York traveled in shackles. Since children appearing in New York City courts usually came from upstate, this meant hundreds of miles of travel while shackled.



City Room - Blogging From the Five Boroughs, January 26, 2010, 1:30 pm

Juvenile Offenders Shackled Illegally, Judge Rules


juvenile prisoner in handcuffs, waist chains and leg shackles
Legal Aid Society
A juvenile prisoner in handcuffs, waist chains and leg shackles.

The agency that runs the state’s juvenile prison system routinely violates the law by shackling youthful offenders when taking them to court even in cases in which the youth poses no obvious threat, a state judge ruled on Tuesday.

The ruling, by Justice Milton A. Tingling Jr. of State Supreme Court in Manhattan, would repeal a policy of the state’s youth prison system that has been in place since at least 1996. The case, a class-action lawsuit on behalf of about 500 youths held in units run by the state’s Office of Children and Family Services, was brought by the Legal Aid Society.

The suit’s named plaintiff is John F., a teenager who was kept in shackles — hands and feet cuffed, with a belly chain linked to the handcuffs — for roughly 15 hours on one day in November 2007.

Justice Tingling issued his decision as a summary judgment against state officials, who did not contest the facts of the case, meaning it is unlikely that they would win an appeal.

“The court’s recognition that O.C.F.S. cannot treat children this way is part and parcel of a culture of abusive practices that is not rehabilitative and does not reorganize that these are children who are in the care of the state,” said Nancy Rosenbloom, the Legal Aid lawyer leading the case.

A spokesman for the agency said that officials there could not comment until they had reviewed the decision.

The agency’s current policy requires any child in custody to be shackled while being taken between state facilities or from a facility to anywhere else, such as a courthouse. While most of the prison units are far upstate, most of the youths are from New York City and must be transported hundreds of miles for routine appearances in Family Court.

The shackling policy even covered youths being held at what are known as nonsecure facilities.

“We had evidence of kids not being able to drink their milk on the way to court because of the chains,” Ms. Rosenbloom said.

Justice Tingling found that the policy violated the state’s own law on shackling youths in custody, which dictates that shackles be used only as a last resort, for youth who are out of control and dangerous, and then only for half an hour. Shackles can be used during transport only, the judge found, when the youths pose a physical threat.

While the ruling covers shackling only during transportation to and from court, and only children from New York City, it will most likely force the Office of Children and Family Services to revise its overall policy on shackling.

Below, a diagram from a training manual from the Office of Children and Family Services illustrates how to shackle children.

shackle manual

Source: New York Times