This week (Nov. 18th) Judge Kathleen Roberts ruled that inmates entering the court will no longer be shackled around their waist.
Lawyers in Orange County have argued that tight, painful shackles are interfering with inmates’ constitutional right to participate in court. Inmates were chained for up to 14 hours as they waited for their court appearance or for transportation back to jail, under the sheriffs policy.
"This is not just handcuffs or some loose chains. They're actually unable to breath and unable to move for ten to twelve hours a day."
OC Assistant Public Defender Sara Ross says the chains severely restrict hand movement and cut into to the skin on the waist and wrist. She adds that these are also people who have not been convicted of a crime.
"So they're sitting inside a cage with bars still shackled and still unable to move and still in a great deal of pain."
People with medical conditions, mental illnesses and even the elderly are also tightly shackled up. Ross reports that some people have had trouble using the bathroom or signing paperwork at court.
Under Roberts new orders, inmates will now have their shackles removed at the courthouse door instead of previous regulations only allowing shackles to be removed in the courtroom.
The OC Sheriff’s department says the previous system allows inmates to be safely secured individually and able to function while at court.
According to Sheriff Don Barnes, the claim that inmates are not able to perform basic human duties is not true.
"There are inmates that very clearly prior to this need to be restrained. They're highly assaultive."
“Unfortunately, the order issued yesterday [Monday] relies on the public defender’s false narrative. … I am confident that a higher court will recognize past judicial precedence, the safety benefits of the restraints, my statutory authority as Sheriff to provide for the care and custody of inmates.”
Barnes added that restraints protect the inmates from harming one another. "They're able to use the restroom. They are able to eat. What they are not able to do is assault one another."
The sheriff reports that assaults are down by 60%.
"When you are going beyond your courtroom into procedural and security issues that are clearly the sheriffs perogative and responsibility - I think that's an over reach from this particular judge."
Barnes says that he is planning to appeal the ruling