By Lee F. Satterfield
Much attention has been paid recently to the use of safety restraints on juvenile offenders.
Those who oppose the use of these restraints ignore very real security issues, and they overlook the wide range of successful rehabilitation programs available to juveniles in this city through the court’s Social Services Division and elsewhere.
Safety is the court’s top priority.
I am chief judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. My top priority is the safety of the more than 10,000 people who walk through the front door of the courthouse each day: court staff, judicial officers, jurors, witnesses, parties to cases and the more than 60 youth who appear in our juvenile courts each day.
Judges in D.C. Superior Court’s Family Court work closely with the U.S. Marshals Service to ensure the safety of those in the courtroom because we have had incidents of restrained and unrestrained juveniles becoming aggressive in the courtroom and attempting to escape from the building.
This year, a respondent known to be volatile appeared at a hearing with a broken hand from having punched a wall at a city facility. The juvenile entered the courtroom with safety restraints on his hands and legs. Defense counsel requested that the hand restraints be removed so that the juvenile, who is hearing-impaired, could sign more easily. The judge denied the request, based on the juvenile’s propensity for violence. However, halfway through the hearing, staff removed some of the restraints. Soon thereafter, the juvenile went on a violent rampage, bucking and swinging his arms, trying to get to the judge. It took police and marshals quite a while to get the situation under control and contain him. In the process, the juvenile injured several people. This was an emotionally upsetting and chaotic experience for all who were present.