AUGUSTA, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- The Criminal Justice Committee heard two separate bills Friday that deal with shackling inmates.
The first bill would create a law that prohibits shackling juvenile offenders in court in most cases. It's part of a larger bill that aims to change the way juveniles are treated within the court system. The bill also promotes restorative justice practices to divert youth from serving time in a correctional facility. It also restricts access to juvenile records.
Currently, a judge has the power to allow a juvenile defendant inside the courtroom without shackles, but someone has to bring it to his or her attention. This bill would flip that presumption, so that a juvenile would only be shackled if law enforcement or the judge said it's necessary. But the Criminal Law Advisory Commission and Cumberland County District Attorney's Office disagreed. They said the bill is unnecessary and that if a juvenile defendant needs special treatment, his or her lawyer should speak up.
"That to me suggests that there is a lack of training or knowledge or courage on the part of an attorney to bring forth that issue," said Cumberland County Assistant District Attorney Christine Thibeault. "Ask yourself, is that something that requires legal change or as Mr. Leadbetter said is it an issue that's a better addressed through the court?"
Sixteen-year-old Skye Gosselin testified about her own experiences being shackled at ages 12 and 14.
"What remains in my memory is not the physical pain that was caused by the handcuffs and shackles but the emotional pain," Gosselin told the committee. "What I still think about today nearly five years later is being in public view, weighed down by loud metal shackles. It felt like all eyes looked at me like I were some crazed criminal or an animal."
The Criminal Justice Committee also heard testimony on a bill that would prohibit shackling pregnant inmates. Currently, pregnant inmates in Maine jails and prisons can be shackled when they are transported. They can also be shackled during labor and childbirth. Medical professionals testified that it's a danger to the safety of the mother and her unborn child. One mother and former inmate shared her experience of being shackled while pregnant.
"It was hard to walk and I had to force the guards to slow down and wait for me," Courtney Fortin told the committee. "If I had fallen in handcuffs I would have not been able to catch myself."
The Department of Corrections said there are policies in place to protect pregnant inmates, which is why the department and the Maine Sheriff's Association opposed the bill.
"It's really a basic question again of how do we solve it?" Charlie Leadbetter of the Criminal Law Advisory Commission. "Do we solve it by creating a statute or do we solve it by having policies that are going to control the conduct of people who are going to be ferrying pregnant females?"
Women's right's advocates, religious groups and civil liberties advocates have all voiced their support for the bill.