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Juvenile unshackling bill heads to House floor

Credit: James Dawson
Rep. James Johnson shows fellow lawmakers shackles that juveniles are routinely put into during Family Court hearings.

Many kids walking into Family Court proceedings in Delaware are literally shackled as they’re led into the room, but a new bill working its way through Dover would change that.



Right now, the presumption is that juveniles’ hands and feet need to be chained together unless they’re out on bail.

That's despite a memo from nearly three years ago citing approval from high-ranking court officials and other state agencies to remove the policy. The agreement removed belly chains and hand cuffs that were included along with the shackles.

“Sometimes, we need incentives. Sometimes we just go along to get along and I think that’s exactly what happened in this case,” said Rep. James Johnson (D-New Castle).

To him, Johnson says the shackles remind him of the bondage of African Americans and other struggles they endured.

“When I think about juveniles or anyone in shackles, I see a correlation between them in shackles and a noose," he said.


"I sit next to these kids on a weekly basis," said Rep. Sean Lynn (D-Dover), who practices family law. "They're shackled to the extent where it's almost impossible to hold a pen to write notes to their defense counsel."


The U.S. Supreme Court outlawed mandatory shackling of adults in 2005, saying it erodes their presumption of innocence.


The bill would still allow courts to restrain juveniles if they're believed to be a flight risk or a threat to others in the courtroom.


Department of Youth Rehabilitative Services workers currently shepherd underage defendants to their court appearances. They say they support the bill, but request four new employees to keep security under control, costing an estimated $233,000 a year.



Committee members voted unanimously to send the bill to the House floor for a vote.