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Kids In Cuffs September 10, 2010

Posted by FairSentencing in : Current News , trackback

When inmates of the Yamhill County Juvenile Detention Facility take their five-minute walk to the courthouse next door for a detention hearing, they do it with cuffs around their wrists and ankles, secured to a belt around their waist. A detention center officer escorts them over, sits through the hearing with them and escorts them back.

Local defense lawyer Paula Lawrence would like to see that stop. She thinks the pros outweigh the cons, both morally and legally.

Lawrence filed a motion Aug. 18 in Yamhill County Circuit Court to limit restraints to youths posing specific public safety concerns. She said the practice is psychologically damaging and violates rights guaranteed in the constitution.

County officials don’t see it that way. They say restraint measures are a necessary and well-justified precaution.

Juvenile Director Tim Loewen said the courthouse simply lacks the security to allow juvenile hall inmates to walk the halls unrestrained.

Use of restraints during trips to court is merely one element in a much broader issue for Lawrence, and she is mounting a larger campaign in response.

She accuses the center of establishing and maintaining “a policy of intimidation.” She said it displays force and instills fear in the management of its young charges.

One of the other manifestations, Lawrence contends, is excessive strip searches.

The county’s strip-search practices came under sharp criticism, and equally sharp restriction, in a decision handed down earlier this year in U.S. District Court in Portland. The county is still mulling the possibility of an appeal to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, but seems to be leaning away from that.

Loewen says the county has taken the rebuke to heart and brought its practices into compliance. But Lawrence disagrees — to the point, she told the News-Register earlier this week, that she plans to amend her local circuit court motion to also take issue with the center’s strip-search policies.

“We’re completely out of touch here in Yamhill County,” she said in a Wednesday phone interview. “It’s embarrassing that we’re so far out of touch.”

Lawrence has already filed a number of complaints directly with the center this year, and Loewen’s department, which oversees the facility, has done its best to address them.

During a tour conducted for the News-Register, manager Scott Paasch showed off the newly renovated room set aside for meetings between incarcerated youths and their attorneys. Lawrence felt it had a number of intimidating features, and they were addressed in the remodel.

The chairs on both sides of the Plexiglas divider separating the youths from their lawyers were replaced with taller, more stool-like chairs allowing the parties to view each other more fully and naturally. The walls were painted a warm periwinkle blue and an opening was cut in the divider so documents could be exchanged.

Downstairs, the staff has prominently posted a list of items attorneys are not allowed to bring up with them, including briefcases, purses, cellphones, staples and paper clips. The aim was to avoid any surprises for lawyers new to the process.

But the concessions haven’t done much to ease long-standing tensions between Lawrence and the juvenile department.

Lawrence has made it clear she’s also seeking more substantive and less cosmetic changes in the way the facility operates.

Her latest motion to that end is scheduled for hearing at 3 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 21, by Judge Cal Tichenor. By then, it will apparently encompass both the strip-search and handcuffing issues.

Lawrence said restraints should be limited to inmates deemed a security risk by a judge. She said indiscriminate use is unduly harsh and can’t be justified under the law.

“They’re overdoing it,” she said. “They do it all the time with everybody.”

Loewen said the center’s clientele is self-selecting. By virtue of being denied release by judges, its youthful inmates have been deemed to pose a risk to themselves or others.

He said judges approve release of the vast majority of young crime suspects to a parent or guardian. He said only the most violent or troubled are kept in detention, and that’s the population the center is dealing with.

Loewen noted that only inmates of the center are cuffed. Other juvenile offenders never are, he said.

He said that effectively represents the policy Lawrence is recommending — that only youths posing a particular risk, as assessed by a judge, be restrained when escorted to and from the center for hearings.

Loewen also cited concerns about the potential for escape.

He said inmates are escorted by unarmed parole officers through unsecured court hallways that come under heavy use by members of the general public. He said they could easily break away and run, with potentially serious consequences.

Loewen said youthful crime suspects tend to be impulsive. They don’t usually plan that kind of behavior, but may well act on an opportunity that presents itself.

“We don’t always know what they’re going to do or what they’re capable of,” he said.

While youths are always handcuffed en route to and from courtrooms, or other outside destinations, the cuffs can be removed during detention hearings when a judge approves a request from defense counsel. Loewen said the center requires a court order for liability reasons.

He said youthful suspects are never restrained in any way at trial. Oregon law forbids any treatment that might prejudice a jury, he said.

That doesn’t go far enough to satisfy Lawrence.

She cited a recent study by Emily Banks, Anna Cowan and Lauren G. Fasig of the Center on Children and Families at the University of Florida’s Levin College of Law. It found that shackling children on their way to court is psychologically damaging, and that it puts the focus on the humiliation they feel over being cuffed rather than the substance of the proceedings themselves.

In Lawrence’s view, the adverse psychological impact effectively denies youths their constitutionally mandated free access to the courts, because their brains can’t process what’s happening during their court time. And she maintains that view is increasingly prevailing elsewhere in the country.

In December, the Florida Supreme Court ruled juveniles can only be cuffed by order of a judge, and then only if they pose a threat of violence. Six months later, the New York Supreme Court ordered the juvenile system to stop shackling youth suspects bound for court.

However, in the New York case, youths were being restrained for up to 15 hours straight, and padlocks were sometimes employed.

In Oregon, the courts have already ruled it illegal to keep a youth cuffed for more than six hours at a stretch.

In Yamhill County, transport typically runs no more than 20 minutes, according to Paasch. He said it could run as much an hour to some destinations, but that would be very rare.

Lawrence cites Multnomah County as a model Yamhill County should emulate. She said it is more appropriate for charges still deemed children.

But Paasch said the differences between the two situations are vast.

In Multnomah County, youths walk from the detention facility to the courtroom via a private hallway, never coming into contact with anyone from the general public. And both courtrooms and public hallways in Multnomah County are monitored continuously by armed security officers, they said.

In Yamhill County, juvenile suspects walk down well-trafficked public hallways both coming and going. And there are no armed officers in or out of the county’s courtrooms.

Loewen said he doesn’t feel the local detention center is overly harsh or intimidating.

In fact, he said it fills some of the biggest needs of its young charges by providing them with structure, nutrition, exercise and discipline. He said those are things most of them have never had.

He said statistics show increasingly positive effects.

In 2007, 43.9 percent of juveniles lodged in the center returned within a year. In 2008, that dropped to 40.9 percent, he said.

He said that’s a good showing for a population encompassing the most chronic and violent youth offenders the county has.

“It’s not about intimidation, it is about training and teaching the youth that have been directed for the court to be in detention to follow the rules,” Loewen said.



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