Home News Center Delaware Reforms Tackle Indiscriminate Shackling, Expungement, and More

Delaware Reforms Tackle Indiscriminate Shackling, Expungement, and More

August 16, 2016
Kirstin Cornnell and Jon Offredo

NJJN member organization, The Delaware Center for Justice, Inc. (DCJ), in collaboration with the Delaware Office of Defense Services (ODS), successfully passed several key youth justice reforms this legislative session, including a ban on indiscriminate shackling and changes to expungement provisions for youth.

HB 211 limits the use of shackles and other physical restraints on children appearing in juvenile delinquency proceedings, except in limited situations where the court determines that the use of restraints is necessary. Bill sponsor, Representative James Johnson (D), introduced the bill more than a year ago, in collaboration with ODS and DCJ. Over the course of the year, lawmakers championed the message that indiscriminate shackling, which does not happen to adult defendants, negatively impacts the quality of justice for kids in Delaware. Lisa Minutola, Chief of Legal Services for ODS, said, “I think when you see those children with those shackles, that really sends the wrong message about what our juvenile justice system is supposed to be about.” The bill passed 39-0 in the House with two abstaining, and 13-8 in the Senate.

Another measure, SB 198, streamlines the process of mandatory expungements by easing some of the cumbersome requirements in place. The bill also modifies discretionary expungement provisions to allow more children the ability to petition the court for an expungement. “Kids make mistakes,” said Kirstin Cornnell, Director of Operations at the Delaware Center for Justice. “As a community, we need to make sure we are not creating unnecessary roadblocks for youth as they grow into adults, pursue further education, and look for careers. This bill is a step in the right direction and will provide renewed opportunity to countless Delawareans.” SB 198 passed both the Delaware House and Senate unanimously.

Two other pieces of legislation supported by DCJ and ODS, House Bills 382 and 405, were passed by legislators this year. HB 382, sponsored by Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf (D), ensures that all youth in Delaware receive legal representation, codifying a pre-existing policy within ODS. HB 405 codifies an existing diversion program within Delaware's Department of Youth Rehabilitative Services that allows police officers to issue civil citations to youth who have committed a first offense and are facing minor charges, like shoplifting.

Additionally, DCJ, ODS, and other local partners have collaborated to host several free expungement legal clinics for youth. Volunteer attorneys received specialized training and client attendees had the opportunity to apply for financial assistance to cover the burdensome fees associated with filing. So far, over 50 youth have benefited from these clinics. Additional opportunities are expected to be scheduled for the fall.

SB 198, HB 405, and HB 211 are expected to be signed into law by Governor Jack Markell this summer. House Bill 382 was signed earlier this summer. 

Photo: Flickr user Darwin Bell

About the Authors
Kirstin Cornnell is Director of Operaions at the Delaware Center for Justice; Jon Offredo is Public Information Officer for the Delaware Office of Defense Services.

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