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Shackles come off in ruling on teens, children

MEDFORD — Jackson County has agreed not to chain the ankles of children and teens accused of crimes when they appear in juvenile court, unless probation officers determine that a youth is dangerous or likely to escape.

The agreement was reached Wednesday morning, just days before a judge was set to hear arguments on a motion filed this summer by a team of defense attorneys who wanted to end the routine of shackling young offenders.

"It's a real victory for youth," said Medford attorney Christine Herbert, a member of the Jackson Juvenile Consortium who filed the motion.

She had argued in her motion that ankle chains in the courtroom were unnecessarily restrictive and humiliating. Citing law journals and child psychologists, she claimed such chains violate a youth's constitutional rights to be considered innocent until proven guilty and potentially undermine rehabilitation efforts.

Although the county's formal response to the motion noted that litigation is not the proper forum for policymaking, Joe Ferguson, deputy director of Jackson County Community Justice's juvenile division, said that officials had been researching restraint use in juvenile courts across the nation.

"We reached agreement because we wanted to work together collaboratively," he said.

"It was a cooperative agreement on the best way to serve the system."

Ferguson said probation officers and detention center workers will start reviewing policies and procedures today as the first step in rewriting rules and updating training.

Juvenile officials have relied on leg chains to prevent fights or other disruptions as teens wait to enter the courtroom, as well as to thwart any escape attempts. Such shackles enable a relatively small number of supervising officers to effectively oversee groups of youths, Ferguson explained previously.

He said changing where officers are stationed and carefully scheduling when youth are brought before the judge should help keep the court running smoothly and safely.

Juvenile authorities can still shackle in court any youth they determine is a flight risk or a potential danger. The agreement has no bearing on shackles used in transporting youth outside the detention center.

Ferguson expects that probation officers who are familiar with their young charges will make decisions about who needs to be chained for court. Detention center staff most familiar with the teens' current behavior also will offer input.

"Probation staff will be ready to justify why any youth are restrained," he said.

Defense attorneys will be able to object and have the decision reviewed by a judge. Both Ferguson and Herbert said the new agreement was based on trust, with no final document yet recording the proposed policy changes.

Herbert said she hopes the process the county has gone through in re-evaluating its stance on shackling will serve as an example to other Oregon counties.

"We all want what's best for the kids in changing their behavior," Ferguson said.

Reach reporter Anita Burke at 776-4485, or e-mail aburke@mailtribune.com.