State Officials Prohibit Shackling of Juveniles in Response to Court Ruling in Legal Aid Case; Steckler Calls for Reform of Juvenile Detention System

In partial response to a court ruling in a lawsuit brought by the Juvenile Rights Practice of The Legal Aid Society, State officials issued a directive [orders] prohibiting the use of waist chains [shackles] under any circumstances for youths held in nonsecure and limited-secured juvenile detention facilities. The new policy was announced in a memorandum from Joyce Burrell, a deputy commissioner of the State Office of Children and Family Services. Last week, a New York State Supreme Court justice ruled that the State Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) violates the law when it routinely shackles children whom the agency transports to court. The law firm of Cooley Godward Kronish LLP serves pro bono as co-counsel with The Legal Aid Society on the case.

Tamara Steckler, Attorney-in-Charge of the Juvenile Rights Practice of The Legal Aid Society, discussed the need for reform of the New York State juvenile justice system with USA Today. "At this point, it's pretty clear that the change needs to happen, it needs to be pervasive and it needs to happen now," Tami Steckler said.

Last summer, the U.S. Department of Justice found that the State uses excessive force on juveniles in custody and fails to provide mental health services. Those findings were echoed in a report in December by a task force appointed by the Governor. On December 30, The Legal Aid Society filed a federal civil rights class action lawsuit against the New York State Office of Children and Family Services charging that children confined in OCFS residential centers are subjected to unconstitutional and excessive force by members of the staff and are deprived of legally-required mental health services.

Children who are sentenced in New York State Family Court proceedings after a finding of juvenile delinquency are faced with serious and dangerous situations when confined to the OCFS facilities, the lawsuit charges. There are approximately 500 children within these facilities at any one time and 80 % of them have mental health needs. The lawsuit, filed by The Legal Aid Society and the law firm of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, seeks declaratory and injunctive relief on the grounds that these children have been denied their constitutional rights under the 14th amendment and other provisions of law, including the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Youth prison system under pressure -