Washington has joined the growing list of states that no longer permit automatic shacking of juveniles. Courts must now make an individualized determination that restraint is necessary for safety concerns or to prevent a likelihood of flight before a child may be shackled. JuCR 1.6 restricts when a juvenile may be shackled and spells the end of automatic juvenile shackling in our state. The model that we followed, working in the courts, the legislature and with the bar association, brought about this important systemic change and can be a model for others to follow.

Prior to the enactment of this rule, the majority of youth came to court in shackles regardless of whether restraint was necessary. Shackling occurred despite the fact that most of the youth who appear in juvenile court are accused of misdemeanor or non-violent felony offenses. Worse yet was the practice of shackling youth who were in custody for non-criminal matters, including truancy, at risk youth proceedings and dependencies also appeared in shackles in many jurisdictions. These youth posed little danger or risk of flight, but many counties routinely shackled them without regard to their age, height, weight, gender, health, offense, risk of flight or threat to self or public safety.

We argued that shackling youth who appear in court adds to the suffering that they have already experienced in their lives. Many of the juveniles who appear in court courts face serious issues and have been victims of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse; drug and alcohol dependency; mental health and developmental issues; and many special education needs. Adding the humiliation of appearing in court bound in handcuffs, a waist restraint and leg shackles increases to what these youth have already suffered because of their arrest and processing into detention. It is an unnecessary process that adds to the trauma that so many youth who appear in juvenile court have already experienced.

We demonstrated that there is clearly a national movement away from automatic shackling because it does not promote safety or respect for the court. Many states, including New York, Pennsylvania, Florida and Massachusetts have recently updated their practices to restrict shackling; joining the growing number of states that require an individualized finding that shackling is necessary.


State Rule How Enacted Year
California State must non-conforming behavior and must be made on a case by case basis Case Law 2007
Connecticut Would require court to find that it is necessary for public safety Pending Bill 2012
Florida State must establish no less restrictive alternative and that youth restraints are necessary to prevent harm or risk of flight Statute 2009
Illinois State must show public safety risk, likelihood of escape or to maintain order Case Law 1977
Massachusetts Court must find that restraints are necessary because of risk of flight, safety or to maintain order Court Rule 2010
New Mexico Not allowed except where court makes an individualized determination Court Rule 2012
New York May be used only where child is uncontrollable and constitutes a serious and evident danger Court Rule 2010
North Carolina Court must find restraints reasonably necessary to maintain order, prevent escape or provide safety Statute 2007
North Dakota Requires court to exercise discretion on when shackles are necessary Case Law 2007
Oregon Burden on state to establish necessity Case Law 1995
Pennsylvania Court must find danger or likelihood of escape Statute 2012
South Carolina Would create law requiring individualized determination Pending Bill 2012
Washington Court must make individualized determination finding danger, disruptive court behavior or risk of flight Court Rule 2014

Finally, we showed that automatic shackling does not promote public safety. Studies have shown that shackling may be counterproductive to safety as it agitates youth, making them more difficult to manage and needlessly traumatizes them as they appear in court.[1] Teaching a youth who obeys court rules and courtroom procedure that they will be respected by the courts encourages public safety. By requiring courts to make an individualized determination that a youth should be shackled, courts teach juveniles respect and that their actions, both positive and negative, have consequences.

When advocates in our state decided that the time had come to end shackling, we took a multi-pronged approach, introducing bills to the legislature and challenging the practice in the courts. Ultimately, we convinced the bar association to propose a rule, which our Supreme Court adopted. Understanding that there are many ways to advocate for change, approaching our issue in different ways created a feeling of urgency and built momentum for change. While this rule change was pending, cases were already set to be heard in the appellate courts. Likewise, the legislature continued to hear bills that would have required the same result.

No juvenile should have to come to court in shackles. Automatic shackling undermines the ability to rehabilitate and confidence in the juvenile court system. Courts lose respect and the ability to change the lives of the youth who appear before them when they do not consider the need for shackles. By changing the rule, we have increased the integrity of our criminal justice system and helped to return the focus of juvenile courts to rehabilitation.


[1] Brian D. Gallagher & John C. Lore III, Shackling Children in Juvenile Court: The Growing Debate, Recent Trends and the Way to Protect Everyone's Interest, 12 U.C. Davis J. Juv. L. & Pol'y 453 (2008)