Ohio has improved its juvenile-justice system, but problems remain, including shackling juveniles in court, and incarcerating a disproportionate percentage of minorities.
The American Civil Liberties Union, the Ohio Public Defender, and the Children’s Law Center released a report card grading the state’s juvenile system: a B for reducing the number of juveniles incarcerated to an F for shackling juveniles.
Overall, the grades represent a slight improvement from the first assessment three years ago.
The report credited the state with reducing the number of youth offenders from 3,000 in 1993 to 606, and for improvements in a state criminal-sentencing overhaul.
Among the problems cited: Two-thirds of youth offenders waive their right to an attorney in court proceedings.
There is also concern about young offenders being housed, before they go to trial, in jails with adult prisoners. Juveniles are thirty-six times more likely to commit suicide in that situation than if they are housed with other juveniles.
The report also took the system to task for disproportional minority incarceration. “Although youth of color accounted for an estimated 24 percent of Ohio’s 2009 juvenile population, in fiscal year 2010 they represented 54.5 percent of juveniles adjudicated delinquent for felony offenses and 66.7 percent of juveniles committed” to the Department of Youth Services.
The shackling issue resulted in the lowest grade, unchanged from 2008. “Children appearing in Ohio’s juvenile courts may be shackled for any reason or no reason,” the report said. “In some counties, including Clark, Cuyahoga, Franklin, Hamilton, Erie, Logan, Lorain and Lucas, youth can appear in juvenile court restrained by handcuffs, belly chains and/or leg irons.”
Ohio’s juvenile system is under a court order resulting from a 2004 lawsuit over conditions at state facilities.
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