The Illinois Supreme Court has adopted new rules regarding the use of restraints on minors in delinquency proceedings.

The new rule and the amending of another come under the Juvenile Court Act of 1987 and took effect on Nov. 1.

Newly adopted Supreme Court Rule 943 provides that restraints or shackles will not be used on a minor during court unless a judge finds, after a hearing, that they are necessary to prevent harm to the minor or another person. They may also be used if the minor has a history of disruptive behavior that would cause harm or if the minor could be considered a flight risk.

The amended rule under the Juvenile Court Act also changes Rule 941, which now states that these rules apply to all juvenile delinquency proceedings.

Support for the new measures came from top law enforcement agencies. Cara Hendrickson, chief of the Public Interest Division at the Illinois Attorney General's Office, wrote a letter to the Illinois Supreme Court Rules Committee that said “indiscriminate juvenile shackling offends the Constitution, violating children’s due process rights, undermining the presumption of innocence and impeding children’s ability to participate in their own defense.”

She went on to say that “shackling humiliates and traumatizes children, causing psychological harm that both threatens the dignity of the judicial process and contradicts the rehabilitation goals of the system.”

Prior to the new rules, shackling often occurred in minors even if they were accused of low-level crimes. It was used as safety precaution which Hendrickson said in her letter that, “juvenile shackling is unnecessary to promote courtroom safety.” She detailed other measures that could be taken such as locking the courtroom or having the presence of enforcement officers or bailiff in the courtroom.”

The rules, which were presented at a public hearing in July, received overwhelming support from state and national juvenile advocacy organizations as well as the attorney general, public guardians and public defenders and a retired judge.

Going forward under the new rules, judges will have the discretion to require shackles and decide so on a case-by-case basis for security and safety in the courtroom. Hendrickson said in her letter that, “Juveniles should be shackled in court only when they actually pose a flight or safety risk and when the less restrictive alternatives fail to eliminate risk.”

The rules were proposed to the Supreme Court Rules Committee last year by several organizations, including the Illinois Justice Project, the Children and Family Justice Center of the Bluhm Legal Clinic, the Juvenile Justice Initiative and the National Center for Mental Health & Juvenile Justice, as well as others.

Their recommendations were sent to the Illinois Judicial Conference Juvenile Justice Committee, which submitted a revised proposal that also allowed for the discretion of a judge if restraints were to be used on a minor.

Hendrickson said in her letter that Rule 943, “follows the growing trend around the country to require courts to make case-by-case determinations of when to require physical restraints in juvenile court proceedings and transportation.”

A total of 23 states and Washington, D.C., have rules or legislation in place prohibiting the use of juvenile shackling.

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