A legislative committee is expected to vote Thursday to limit shackling and strip searching children. The proposals will likely lead to new Department of Juvenile Services policies almost immediately.
The group is grappling with how to reduce the amount of time juvenile offenders spend in shackles while traveling between detention centers and court or home visits, and how to avoid strip searches when the children enter the facilities.
State Sen. Anthony Muse, a Prince George’s County Democrat who is leading the task force, said members seem to agree that children should be periodically unshackled, perhaps every two to three hours on long car rides and during bathroom breaks.
“For example, there was an incident of a young lady who had mechanical restraints, and if you see these things, they’re 25 pounds in weight,” he said. “They had to take her from here to Florida. She was on lockdown the entire time, sitting that way even when she went to the bathroom. That’s appalling.”
The group also seems to agree to eliminate strip searches for children younger than 13, as well as for those returning from meeting with a lawyer at the detention center or a home visit rewarded for good behavior.
Other proposals, such as allowing children to teleconference into court appearances, are more controversial. Several committee members raised the idea as a way to avoid transporting the youth to and from court and eliminate the need for shackles and strip searches as a result. However, the Office of the Public Defender has said this option would make it impossible for lawyers to properly meet with their clients, who are often scattered in facilities across the state.
In addition to the policy changes, it’s likely lawmakers will also propose new legislation on the issue when the General Assembly reconvenes in January.