Jefferson County judge removing cuffs from juvenile offenders - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Jefferson County judge removing cuffs from juvenile offenders

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- On Thursday, WDRB was given a glimpse into a place where cameras are normally forbidden: Louisville's juvenile justice system.

The tour came even as the city faces a stunning rise in children carrying guns -- and a local judge treats troubled teens differently. We saw several children -- but we can't divulge their names or show their faces.

"How old are you son?" asked Judge David Holton.

"Fourteen, sir," said one child. 

"How long have you been locked up young man?" Holton asked another juvenile.

"Forty days," the youth responded.

The youth are facing charges such as the unlawful use of a motor vehicle and receipt of stolen property under $10,000.

They're charged in serious adult crimes -- but many say they're looking for a second chance.

"I'm going to prove that I can do good by...not smoking weed and don't steal no more cars," said one 13-year-old.

"You're here more than I am and I'm the judge," Judge Holton said.

Judge Holton took the bench in Louisville's juvenile court at the end of 2016. One of his first orders was to uncuff the kids.  

"I believe that when you treat children like criminals, it just perpetuates their self image as criminals and they don't need to be exposed to the humiliation of being chained and shacked," Judge Holton said.

The move comes during a time of transition in Kentucky's juvenile justice system. Senate Bill 200 expanded diversion cases which gives troubled teens more second chances without lockup.

Recently, Louisville is seeing more teens tied to gun crimes. Public defender Beth McMahon says their names are being tied to murder, assaults, wanton endangerment cases and robberies. 

But public defenders and parents praised the no-cuffs rule and prosecutors didn't object either. It follows a Supreme Court ruling that Jefferson County previously ignored. 

"Juveniles are not, in fact, little adults and they should be treated more like kids," said McMahon.

At the same time, Judge Holton says he's not soft on crime. He says he's trying to correct kids -- like a 13-year-old with 12 criminal charges let out on probation. 

"There is a zero tolerance," Judge Holton told the 13-year-old. "That means you must not have any bumps."

Holton says it's better that he get to them now before they end up in Louisville Metro Corrections for life.

"Alright now come give me a fist bump," Judge Holton said to one juvenile. "Show me that you've changed inside, son. Good luck." 

Louisville had nearly 2,500 juvenile court cases last year. Holton says the decision on whether to cuff the kids charged with murder is decided case by case.

Copyright 2017 by WDRB News. All rights reserved.

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