Date: January 31st, 2024
To: Representative Rudy Viet, Chairman, and Members of the House Committee on Corrections and Public Institutions
From: Gwen Smith, Criminal Justice Policy Manager, Empower Missouri
RE: Support for HB 2059
As the largest and oldest anti-poverty non-profit in our state, Empower Missouri is committed to improving the quality of life for all Missouri residents through advocacy. Since our inception, Empower Missouri has focused on the criminal justice system and its impacts. Our Community Justice Coalition consists of community advocates and organizations from across the state who work with those who have been impacted by the criminal justice system. Many coalition members are formerly incarcerated or have currently incarcerated loved ones, and all are connected by a vision for a future without mass incarceration.
We are providing testimony today in support of HB 2059, sponsored by Representative Keathley, which would end the use of restraints on children in juvenile court, except in extreme cases where safety is a legitimate concern. Currently, children in juvenile court can be shackled even if they are accused only of misdemeanor, non-violent or status offenses. By enacting this change, Missouri would join the 32 other states that have banned the use of restraints in juvenile court, including Florida, New Mexico, and South Carolina.
The American Bar Association has issued a resolution recommending that all states end the practice of shackling youth, stating that “shackling interferes with the attorney client relationship, chills notions of fairness and due process, undermines the presumption of innocence, and is contrary to the rehabilitative ideals of the juvenile court.” The use of restraints in court including handcuffs, straitjackets, and chains can also be a particularly traumatizing experience for a child, impacting their future mental health outcomes. Under the United States Constitution, the use of visible restraints imposed on adult criminal defendants at trial and sentencing may only be employed “in the presence of a special need.” Children should be afforded the same protections as adult defendants, but in this instance they are not.
Empower Missouri urges this committee to take action to pass HB 2059 into law. Thank you for your time and consideration of this matter.