Judge Byrne '87 seeks to end shackling in juvenile justice courts

State District Judge Darlene Byrne, president of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, said she hopes that Texas becomes the 27th state to ban indiscriminate shackling of juveniles in court.

State District Judge Darlene Byrne, president of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, said she hopes that Texas becomes the 27th state to ban indiscriminate shackling of juveniles in court.

July 20, 2016 - A keynote speaker at the 15th Annual Zealous Advocacy Conference held last week at the University of Houston Law Center told juvenile justice attorneys that the negative effects of shackling children in the courtroom outweigh the benefits.

Judge Darlene Byrne, president of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, a 1987 Law Center alumna, and judge of the 126th Judicial District Court in Travis County, said shackling has a dehumanizing effect, results in physical pain, and can create a mistrust of the justice system at an early age.

"The concern of feeling like a monster has definitely been expressed by numerous young people who have testified around the country on this issue, to transform the way many states are operating," Byrne said. "They have a sense that the justice system is not just, and that all it is there to do is to inflict pain and injury to them.

"If treated by the courts as dangerous or untrustworthy, a youth may come to believe this is inherently who they are."

Byrne was also presented the Believer Award by Dean Leonard M. Baynes, who credited her creativity and innovation in the family court structure, such as a therapy dog program in her court.

"Judge Byrne has done great work in her career with her advocacy, and in her position as the president of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges," Baynes said. "She is really a fine example of our graduates who really have taken their careers to a whole different level. She has shown through her efforts how the law has the power to change the world."

The event, "Being a Strong Advocate for the Juvenile Client," was sponsored by the Center for Children, Law & Policy, and the Southwest Regional Juvenile Defender Center. The conference is an annual training seminar and the premier professional development training for juvenile defense attorneys practicing in the Southwestern United States.

A central theme of the conference was the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and their effect on juvenile justice. The topic was introduced by Dr. Angelo Giardino, of the Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children's Hospital.

Emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional neglect, physical neglect, family violence, household substance abuse, household mental illness, parental separation or divorce, and the incarceration of a household member are considered to be adverse childhood experiences.

Giardino said a high number of adverse childhood experiences during youth can cause health issues later in life, including dying 20 to 30 years earlier than average.

 "The more ACEs you have, the more adult illness or adult health risk behaviors are displayed," Giardino said. "The behaviors ACEs are linked to include lack of physical activity, smoking, alcoholism, and drug use. The correlated physical and mental health issues could be severe obesity, diabetes, depression, suicide attempts, STDs, heart disease, cancer, stroke or broken bones."

Dr. Diane Vines, the Neurosequential Model in Therapuetics Program Director for the ChildTrauma Academy, pointed out the financial burden of adverse childhood experiences on families. These costs can include mental and physical healthcare, educational costs for truancy and special services, or legal system costs.

"If you have a vulnerable family, you have to get them educated," Vines said. "Early intervention and prevention can significantly reduce costs.

Additional speakers included:

  • Ellen Marrus, George Butler Research Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Children Law & Policy
  • Nadia Seeratan of the National Juvenile Defender Center
  • Dustin Rynders '06 of Disability Rights Texas
  • Christina Phillis of the Maricopa County Public Advocate Office
  • Daphne Robinson, the MCH Special Projects Coordinator of the Louisiana Department of Health
  • Dr. Stephen Baldridge of Abilene Christian University
  • Professor Malikah Marrus of Hood College.

Registration is open for the 16th Annual Zealous Advocacy Conference, titled, Gault@50: Quality Representation for Youth. It will be held April 21-22 at the Law Center.

"The 15th Annual Zealous Advocacy Conference was a huge success," Law Center Professor Ellen Marrus said. "Attendees loved the sessions and expressed how much they learned over the two days. Without even having our program set, we have over 40 early registrations for next year's Zealous Advocacy Conference – Gault@50. We are definitely off to another great start."

University of Houston Law Center Dean Leonard M. Baynes (left), and Professor Ellen Marrus (right), present the Believer Award to Judge Darlene Byrne ’87 (middle) at the 15th annual Zealous Advocacy Conference.
University of Houston Law Center Dean Leonard M. Baynes (left), and Professor Ellen Marrus (right), present the Believer Award to Judge Darlene Byrne '87 (middle) at the 15th annual Zealous Advocacy Conference.

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