On September 1, 2021, Michigan will be added to the list of 31 states and D.C. with regulations limiting when a juvenile may be placed in restraints in court. The new rule handed down by the state Supreme Court on July 28, 2021, limits this now to three circumstances:
- where the juvenile otherwise presents a physical danger to himself or others;
- where the juvenile has a history of disruptive courtroom behavior; or
- where the juvenile presents a flight risk.
Agreeing with the majority of the seven justices, Justice Megan Cavanagh argued that “indiscriminate shackling of juveniles” results in “shame and humiliation” that is harmful. But fellow Justice David Viviano worried in his dissent about “tragic consequences” from limiting any judge’s discretion to act in ways that prevent “court security lapses.”
The ruling follows the June 2020 shackling in court of a Black 15-year-old from suburban Detroit named Grace, who posed no observed threat of disruption or flight. Her plight was made more pitiful by the reason for her detention: A failure to complete online homework during the Covid-19 pandemic, violating the terms of a probated sentence for assault and theft.
The Michigan Court of Appeals ordered her release in early August 2020, weeks after a ProPublica investigation into the case. The state Supreme Court then proposed the new rule, listening to comments at a March 2021 public hearing before issuing its decision.
“The juvenile justice system is supposed to be rehabilitative, not punitive,” noted the Michigan Center for Youth Justice’s executive director, Jason Smith.
Other groups supporting the new rule included the Michigan Psychological Association and the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. Among those opposed were the Sheriff’s office in Oakland County and its family court.
After another 2020 ProPublica study found that Michigan juvenile offenders were among the nation’s most likely to be jailed for probation violations and nonviolent offenses, Gov. Gretchen Whitmire (D) formed a Task Force on Juvenile Justice Reform. Its findings and recommendations are expected in July 2022.
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