Though adult Mainers have long been afforded the right to unimpeded movement during their trials, it took several years and some ambitious University of Maine Law students to achieve the same right for Maine children.
As of Nov. 1, Maine minors will no longer be subjected to the overzealous use of shackles and chains for small-time, non-violent offenses. In fact, it will require a specific order by the judge to use restraints at all.
And though it’s only a drop in the figurative bucket, the decision is progress in a broader, more meaningful sense as well.
The United States has a long history of worrisome all-or-nothing policing. Mandatory minimums are just one of countless policies that demonstrate little sympathy for those who stand accused, even when the crimes they are charged with have caused no serious injury to other individuals or their property.
These measures, put forward by well-meaning -though misguided-public officials, cultivate a violently insensitive culture with little understanding or kindness for anyone who commits a crime — no matter how negligible its far-reaching effects may be. By doing so, those charged are dehumanized and abused in nearly every ring of the judicial process.
A society dedicated to punishing even the minutest of offenses with strict, unforgiving measures is not a healthy society in any respect. Those advocating for this treatment seek only to raise themselves — to stand superior above others who have had unfortunate, though understandable, errors of judgement.
Thanks to these harsh measures, small-time offenders — sent to prison particularly often for low level possession and distribution charges — are transformed by necessity and circumstance into hardened criminals. Such is the vice of a system that struggles to make use of humanity and reason, instead implementing severe and authoritarian mandatory sentences for trivial drug offenses in the name of “fairness.”
It is not up to the authorities to dictate the moral fabric of the country they exist to serve and protect. By shackling children and “making an example” out of misdemeanor-level criminals, that is precisely what they are, consciously or unconsciously, doing. Making an example of people without their permission — deterring further misbehavior by unfairly treating those who have already perpetrated a wrongdoing — is irresponsible and detestable.
The use of excessive force is not limited to a physical altercation. Though the alteration of Maine law to more fairly treat young offenders is a step in the right direction, it is only one small step in the marathon the US must run if it wishes to correct the wrongs of its past.