CHICAGO, Ill. (AP) — The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services banned the use of shackles and handcuffs on youths in its custody after two teenage boys were restrained while they transferred from one Chicago-area shelter to another.
The 15-year-old and 17-year-old boys were handcuffed and shackled at their ankles on Oct. 1 while being transferred separately from a Chicago shelter to another in Palatine.
In response, the department said in a Wednesday federal court filing submitted as part of a long-running consent decree that “neither DCFS nor its contractors shall ever use handcuffs and/or shackles for transporting any youth in DCFS care.”
The use of restraints in the teens’ case “was totally unacceptable and against department policy,” DCFS spokesman Jassen Strokosch said in a statement last Friday.
The new policy is effective immediately, Strokosch said. However, “soft restraints,” defined as made of cloth material, are allowed only if they are court ordered or ordered by a psychiatrist, Strokosch noted. Soft restrains can be used around a person’s wrist, ankles or chest, the department said.
The change comes amid an inspector general investigation into the department’s use of restrains. Child welfare workers oppose the hard restraints, saying they can further traumatize youths who enter state care because of abuse or neglect.
Staff at the shelter, run by Aunt Martha’s Health & Wellness, were “shocked and surprised” to see the driver arrive with shackles, according to Ricardo Meza, an attorney for the organization.
“At no (point) have we ever mentioned transporting youth in shackles or handcuffs … ” Meza wrote in a letter sent to a special master appointed in the long-running federal consent decree case. “We exist to protect youth, not to further traumatize them.”
Jim Stewart Transportation company restrained and drove the teens during the Oct. 1 transfer. DCFS contracts the company for “secured transport” when a case manager determines they cannot shuttle the young people themselves, Strokosch said.
Alan Ifft, the director of operations for Jim Stewart Transportation, said the company will follow the new protocol. But he said he does not think soft restraints are effective, saying many people can easily slip out of them.
“We’ve had kids that were completely cooperative and completely compliant, and as soon as they hit an open space, that sense of panic hits in and they are just running into traffic or running into a neighborhood that they are not familiar with,” Ifft said Wednesday. “I don’t want to be responsible for a child hurting themselves or someone else.”