Detained children routinely appear before Michigan's juvenile courts shackled with handcuffs, leg irons, and belly chains. Once security officers bring a child to court in these shackles, the child usually remains in them for her hearing or trial. In Michigan, as in many other states, no statute or court rule requires the judge to decide whether shackles are necessary.
This Essay argues that Michigan should pass legislation or amend state court rules to create a presumption against shackling children. Unless a child poses a substantial risk of flight or physical danger and less restrictive alternatives to shackling will not adequately address those risks, the child should appear in court without shackles.
There are many good reasons to adopt such a presumption. First, Michigan's current practice serves little purpose: judges can keep courtrooms safe without indiscriminate shackling. Second, shackles flout the rehabilitative goals of juvenile court by humiliating and traumatizing children. Third, shackles cause constitutional harm. They interfere with attorney-client communications, offend the dignity of the judicial process, and erode the presumption of innocence, thus undermining the Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Finally, not a single state legislature or appellate court has endorsed indiscriminate child shackling, and a growing number of states reject the practice.