US courts routinely shackle teens accused of minor crimes

Many US juvenile courts routinely shackle teens accused of minor crimes and deny them adequate access to a lawyer, a study released Wednesday has found.

US courts routinely shackle teens accused of minor crimes
Most teens in the study did not get to meet with a lawyer before a hearing to determine whether they should be held in jail prior to trial. They also rarely got to adequately discuss their case with a lawyer prior to the trial date.

Anywhere from 70 to 100 percent of the teens ended up pleading guilty, many at their first court appearance.

"You have youth that are not guilty who are pleading guilty because they want to get it over with," said study co-author Cathryn Crawford.

Other teens plead guilty when they have an adequate defense or end up pleading guilty to a more serious charge than they ought to given the true nature of the crime, she said.

"There are serious consequences," said Crawford, a professor and lawyer with Northwestern University's Children and Family Justice Center.

Knocking a crime down from a felony to a misdemeanor can mean the difference between spending a few months in jail and staying behind bars until their 21st birthday.

A prior conviction can also impact whether a teen is tried as an adult in the future.

Juvenile convictions, while theoretically sealed, are also disclosed to schools and can impact access to financial aid for college. And there have also been reports that prospective employers have been able to access juvenile records, Crawford said.

But perhaps the most serious impact is on how these teens feel about the system, she said.

"Teenagers are fairness freaks," Crawford told AFP.

"If they go through a process where their lawyer sits down and explains what's going on and asks them what they want to do, that child is much more likely to do well because they are invested in the system and believe it works."

Excessive use of shackles -- which are mandatory for all teens in some courts -- also perpetuates a sense of alienation, she said.

"When you are sitting in court and you see these children -- some of whom are accused of possession of marijuana -- and they are sitting with ankle shackles and their hands are tied to a belly shackle it's very disturbing," she said.

Researchers looked at the juvenile court system in a representative sample of 16 Illinois counties. They found the same systemic problems present in 15 other states examined in recent years.


Güncelleme Tarihi: 01 Kasım 2007, 15:54