Looking for a Hero, Juveniles Unchained

Anyone who does anything to help a child in his life is a hero.” – Mr. Rogers

In today’s climate, it isn’t difficult to point to the heroes working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the globe. They are our healthcare heroes, our grocery clerk heroes, our food delivery heroes all ensuring our safety, health, and wellbeing.

The children we servewho are facing serious consequences as the systems assigned to support them strugglealso need their heroes. And we have one to suggest: Steven Teske, Chief Judge of Georgia’s Clayton County Juvenile Court, for winning his battle to put an end to the practice of shackling children in Georgia’s courts. This week, Judge Teske, who has been trying to right this wrong for several years, finally saw justice done when the Georgia Supreme Court ruled to curtail the practice in most cases and to require all of the State’s juvenile courts to establish protocols to address when they will be permitted.

There is a shameful history of the use of shackles on children, in and outside of courtrooms. This is despite the fact that child welfare and juvenile justice experts have long recognized this practice as inappropriate, with overwhelming evidence in support of limiting the shackling of juveniles.

Entering a courtroom shackled is terrifying and humiliating for a child. It can also be devastating for family members, as Judge Teske witnessed in 2015 when he watched a grandmother cry out in despair as she watched her grandson walk into the courtroom in shackles. As the Clayton Daily News recently reported, “Teske, a descendant of slaveowners, made the connection between the free African-American defendants in his courtroom and the bondage of their ancestors and decided enough was enough.

Last summer Children’s Rights urged Georgia’s Supreme Court to limit juvenile shackling, noting that numerous jurisdictions around the country had done so successfully. In an Op-Ed in the Savannah Morning News published last year, Lead Counsel Christina Wilson Remlin calls for an end to the practice, “It is past time for reform. If we want a fair juvenile justice system that supports young defendants’ long-term rehabilitation, then limiting the use of physical restraints in courtrooms is imperative.

Children’s Rights celebrates with Judge Teske and all the champions across the US who have long fought to put an end to this antiquated, trauma-inducing practice. Thanks to them, beginning this summer, Georgia courtrooms will see juveniles unchained.

In the words of Mr. Rogers, “Anyone who does anything to help a child in his life is a hero.”  We commend the relentless heroic efforts of Judge Steven Teske.