County backs restraint use on youths

The choice to restrain accused youthful offenders in Jackson County Juvenile Court is a policy decision best left to the juvenile department, not an issue to be litigated, the county's legal team said in response to a motion to stop the practice.

A group of Medford defense attorneys requested that detained youths no longer be chained at the ankles when they appear in court.

The motion, filed by Christine Herbert, argued that Jackson County's practice is unnecessary, violating youths' constitutional rights to be considered innocent until proven guilty and potentially undermining their rehabilitation.

The county's response to that motion, filed Friday by senior assistant county counsel Ryan Kirchoff, pointed out that the court could deny the request on technical grounds, but called for a hearing to voice full opposition to the request.

In the response, the county said that the Jackson Juvenile Consortium lacks legal standing to speak on behalf of all detained youth, and, without a specific case in question, the court should avoid issuing a procedural advisory opinion.

"The court should deny the motion as procedurally improper," the document said.

The response, however, went on to explain that constitutional limits on physical restraints are intended to prevent a jury from being prejudiced by seeing a defendant in chains. Typically the limits don't extend to non-jury court proceedings. Federal courts have upheld the use of ankle restraints on all detainees appearing before just a judge, as youths do in juvenile court here.

The response — which calls the term shackles "an emotion-charged pejorative" — also notes that the restraints aren't intended as punishment, but deter fighting, disruptions and escape attempts. They don't interfere with the youth's ability to participate in his or her own defense, the document stated.

"... [T]he issues presented in the motion boil down to matters of general policy regarding safety and security measures. Litigation is not the proper forum for policy making," the response said, concluding that the court and officials in the juvenile department should make such decisions.

Herbert will have seven days to respond to the response, and a hearing likely will be set later, officials said.

Reach reporter Anita Burke at 776-4485, or e-mail

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