Ohio's practice of shackling children challenged by ACLU

Writ filed after girl shackled in Cincinnati

CINCINNATI – The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Ohio asked the state’s Supreme Court Monday to strike down the shackling of children in a courtroom.

The ACLU filed a writ with the state after a 14-year-old girl charged with a non-violent drug offense was shackled in Hamilton County Juvenile Court Friday.

The organization asked in its court filings for a ruling that prohibits juvenile courts from shackling children without first holding a hearing to determine if it is necessary.

“This child is 5-foot-2. She has been charged with a non-violent offense, and she has no prior criminal record,” said ACLU of Ohio Senior Staff Attorney Jennifer Martinez Atzberger. “A judge should be looking at facts like these to determine whether children really need to be locked in chains to keep court personnel safe.”

Atzberger said the court forced the girl to appear in full body shackles despite a motion filed by her attorney requesting that she be allowed to appear unrestrained.

According to the ACLU, adult courts already require hearings to decide on shackles, and 11 states have banned indiscriminate juvenile shackling. Juvenile courts in Ohio are not required to hold these hearings.

“Right now, courts in Ohio are doing to children what it is illegal to do to adults,” Atzberger said. “These hearings are not just a formality; they are an essential part of due process under the law. As adults, we demand these rights. Children deserve no less.”

Hamilton County Juvenile Judge Tracie M. Hunter ended the practice of routinely shackling juveniles in her courtroom in April 2013. Hunter said she believes the blanket policy of shackling juveniles is not in the best interest of children and contrary to evidence-based best practices.

But since Hunter's indictment on felony charges this past January and her removal from office, the no-shackling policy has not been followed.

Hamilton County Juvenile Court Administrator Curt Kissinger said Monday if juveniles are in the Youth Center on Auburn Avenue, they are placed in shackles.

He said 90 percent of the juveniles at the detention center are there for felonious or serious offenses -- and that shackling them helps detention center workers because there is not enough security at the juvenile court.

Some juveniles are not required to be in the detention center and may simply appear in court without shackles, Kissinger said.

He said if the juveniles want to appear in court without shackles, their attorneys need to make that request before a magistrate or a judge.

WCPO Crime Reporter Kareem Elgazzar contributed to this report.

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