Ending the “One Size Fits All” Approach

A “one size fits all” approach works much better for some situations than others. A “one size fits all” hat with an adjustable strap, for example, could work for all. A “one size fits all” pair of shoes, on the other hand, wouldn’t work for most. And a “one size fits all” approach doesn’t work well in our youth justice system. Changes that have been implemented in recent months in juvenile court reflect that sentiment, and youth and our communities will be better off for it.

Until recently, many Kentucky juvenile courts were using a one size fits all approach to shackling kids in courtrooms. That meant no matter the circumstances, kids in juvenile courts across the state were handcuffed to a chain around their belly or with some similar type of shackle. While such measures may be warranted in some cases, places like Jefferson County were using it with every child, regardless of the case.

Adults have had the right to appear at trial before jurors without being shackled because the visual impact can lead to unintended bias. Youth should also have protection against that unintended bias in the courtroom. Research shows that being shackled impacts a young person’s ability to engage in the court process. In fact, studies show how people sometimes take on the persona of a role they find themselves in. In a similar way, when youth are shackled it can impact how they perceive themselves and, therefore, how they behave in the courtroom.

In recent months, changes have been made to Kentucky practices. First, the Kentucky Supreme Court led work to revise the rules for juvenile court. The rule changes end the practice of “indiscriminate shackling,” or shackling everyone without regard for the individual circumstances. After Judge David Holton became the juvenile court judge in Jefferson County, he implemented the changes for Jefferson County courts. Like in much larger cities –  including Miami and Los Angeles – the process has worked without major incident.

Leadership like that demonstrated by the Supreme Court and Judge Holton is exactly what kids and communities need – leaders that reexamine practices to see if they are the most effective at getting the outcomes we want. Kids need leaders that are willing to look closely at what’s always been done to see if the practice should continue. Kids need leaders that move beyond a “one size fits all” approach. Thanks to those who made that happen in our juvenile courts.

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