For Immediate Release
Juvenile Justice System Failing Ohio’s Children, Investigation Finds
ACLU, Children’s Law Center and Ohio Public Defender’s Office Say Too Many Kids Being Shackled, Not Represented by Lawyers
COLUMBUS, Ohio - The
Ohio juvenile justice system is failing the state's children by
permitting children to be routinely shackled, mandating that children
accused of certain crimes be charged as adults and by not ensuring that
all children accused of crimes get lawyers.
The findings, detailed in a report
card released today, are the result of an investigation by the American
Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Ohio, the Children's Law Center,
Inc. and the Office of the Ohio Public Defender. The investigation has
also revealed that Ohio detains and incarcerates a greater percentage
of its children than most other states in the nation and that a
disproportionate number of those incarcerated are children of color.
"Rushing to criminalize and
unnecessarily incarcerate kids is just bad policy," said Robin
Dahlberg, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU Racial Justice Program.
"It has a scarring impact on our children and only serves to push them
deeper into the criminal justice system and inhibit their ability to
become healthy, productive adults."
In the report card, the four groups
give less than satisfactory grades to the state's juvenile justice
system in five key areas: waiver of counsel, shackling of juveniles,
juvenile transfers to adult court, rates of juvenile detention and
confinement, and disproportionate minority confinement.
One of the more startling findings
is that Ohio has resisted the burgeoning national trend of prohibiting
the shackling of children during delinquency proceedings unless a judge
finds it necessary. Children in Ohio can be shackled without any
justification and regularly appear in juvenile courts - including those
in Cuyahoga, Franklin, Hamilton, Montgomery, Eerie, Logan, Lorain and
Lucas Counties - with handcuffs, belly chains and leg irons.
"It is nothing short of cruel and
inhumane to shackle children who pose no danger to themselves or
others," said Jill Beeler, Chief Counsel for the Office of the Ohio
Public Defender's Juvenile Division. "It serves to enforce the idea to
children that society views them only as criminals, which has a lasting
effect on a child's self image and ability to succeed later in life."
The report card also reveals that
too many Ohio children accused of crimes are not ever represented by a
lawyer. Despite the fact that many studies show that most youth do not
fully understand the consequences of doing so, many youth in Ohio are
choosing to waive their right to counsel. The result is that in 24 of
Ohio's 88 counties, more than 90 percent of children charged with
crimes do not receive legal representation. It remains to be seen how a
2007 ruling by the Supreme Court of Ohio mandating that children
wishing to waive their right to counsel first consult a competent
parent, guardian or attorney might impact this problem.
In addition, the report card reveals
that the Ohio juvenile justice system does not abide by the American
Bar Association's recommendation that judges be given the
responsibility of determining whether a child should be tried in adult
court. Instead, Ohio is one of only 15 states that take that decision
out of a judge's hands by mandating that children charged with certain
offenses be tried as adults, regardless of whether a child may be
capable of rehabilitation.
A copy of the report card evaluating juvenile justice in Ohio is available online at: www.aclu.org/ohioreportcard
Additional information about the ACLU Racial Justice Program is available online at: www.aclu.org/racialjustice
Additional information about the ACLU of Ohio is available online at: www.acluohio.org
Additional information about the Children's Law Center, Inc. is available online at: www.childrenslawky.org
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.