Thousands of Iowa children will no longer routinely be shackled when appearing in juvenile state court, the result of a rule change by the Iowa Supreme Court prompted by the ACLU of Iowa and Drake Univerisity's Middleton Center for Children's Rights. 

They are like Lizzy, an Ankeny teen pictured here with her mother, Laura. She was just 15 when she had to appear in court in hand and foot shackles connected with a chain. She was with court officers the entire time and armed guards were stationed throughout the courthouse, she says. The shackles were so tight her ankles started to bleed onto her shoes. She was ashamed and crying, but couldn't even wipe her dripping nose. "I wasn't a flight risk," Lizzy said. "There was no reason for me to have those on." Further, she said, the trauma, pain, and difficulty of being shackled "like an animal" made it hard for her to talk, to listen, and even to make eye contact with the judge.

The ACLU of Iowa and the Drake University Middleton Center for Children’s Rights, which jointly requested the rule change along with eight other groups, pointed out that restraints are unnecessary unless there is a flight or safety risk, and that there are typically already armed security in Iowa courthouses. Also, shackling children—who can be as young as 10—is psychologically traumatic and damaging for them. Shackling also makes it harder for children to follow judges’ instructions, take notes, or recall facts, and be able to speak effectively with judges and their lawyers.  

The rule change means that Iowa joins 29 other states that have abolished automatically shackling juveniles. The new rule goes into effect January 1, 2018.

The following organizations also signed onto the proposal to adopt the new rule: Iowa-Nebraska NAACP, Youth Law Center, League of United Latin American Citizens of Iowa, Des Moines Branch NAACP, Disability Rights Iowa, National Juvenile Defender Center, American Orthopsychiatric Association, and the National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice.

Rita Bettis, ACLU of Iowa legal director, said, "This rule change is a critical safeguard for Iowa kids appearing in juvenile delinquincy hearings in state court. With it, Iowa joins 29 other states that have implemented similar procedures to protect kids from unnecessary use of shackles and other restraints in light of the clear evidence of the harm that indiscriminate shackling causes youngsters. We are grateful to the Iowa court system for its leadership in adopting this important juvenile court rule." 

Brent Pattison of the Middleton Center said, "We are grateful to the Iowa Supreme Court and the Iowa Supreme Court Juvenile Rules Committee for the adoption of this rule. Indiscriminate shackling is antithetical to the rehabilitation mission of the juvenile court."