Juvenile Court Division | News & Updates
Maryland Office of Public Defender Statement on Shackling Children in Court
The Maryland Office of the Public Defender is fiercely opposed to the indiscriminate shackling of children in court. Maryland juvenile courts were established to provide for the care, protection, and wholesome mental and physical development of delinquent children.
The Free State is required to provide the children in its custody a safe, humane, and caring environment. Despite this, the eleven counties where a majority of Maryland juvenile arrests take place routinely shackle children when they appear in court. Shackling can include leg irons, handcuffs, and belly chains. In the eleven counties that shackle kids in court, it is done regardless of a child’s age, history of trauma, height, weight, health, the nature of their offense, risk of flight, or threat to public safety. The vast majority of children who appear in juvenile court are charged with misdemeanor offenses, like school fights, trespassing, or possession of marijuana.
Children as young as nine were routinely shackled in Maryland courtrooms even though shackling can cause physical, emotional, and psychological harm. A large number of cases brought in juvenile court are eventually dismissed. Many of these children are facing a number of other serious challenges that range from post-traumatic stress disorder; being the victim of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse; problems with drugs and alcohol; mental health diagnoses; and developmental or intellectual disabilities. Placing these vulnerable young people in cuffs tells these susceptible children that they are dangerous, rather than wounded, and that they deserve humiliation, rather than help.
The indiscriminate shackling of children is not only inhumane, but also counterproductive for the Maryland juvenile justice system. Many states, including Pennsylvania, Florida, North Carolina, New York, and Massachusetts have all chosen to stop this indefensible policy by restricting the use of juvenile shackling. By continuing to shackle children, Maryland is failing to live up to the ideals and the goals of its juvenile justice system. The Maryland Office of the Public Defender calls for an immediate end to the practice of shackling children in court.
 Twelve counties in Maryland routinely shackle juveniles who appear in delinquency court. These counties represent approximately two-thirds of all the children arrested and charged in Maryland. They are Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Calvert County, Cecil County, Charles County, Dorchester County, Harford County, Kent County, Prince George's County, Queen Anne's County, Somerset County, St. Mary’s County, and Wicomico County. Twelve counties do not indiscriminately shackle children: Allegany County, Anne Arundel County, Caroline County, Carroll County, Frederick County, Garrett County, Howard County, Montgomery County, Talbot County, Washington County, and Worcester County.