Most people would agree that a person’s appearance has a huge effect on how he or she is perceived by others. Someone wearing an orange prison jumpsuit is typically not judged to be of the same caliber as a person wearing a business suit. It may not be fair, but it is not unusual in California or anywhere else. A recent class action settlement that ends the shackling of prisoners in San Francisco’s immigration court addresses that reality head-on.
Currently, people in San Francisco detention centers wear shackles around their wrists, middle and legs when they are being transported to and from immigration court. Those shackles remain in place during any courtroom proceedings that take place. People who have experienced this say the process makes them feel like a criminal and makes others see them that way as well.
The settlement decrees that immigrants who are contesting deportation will not wear shackles when they appear in immigration proceedings in a courtroom in San Francisco. People who are considered a flight risk or those with a tendency toward violence are not included in the ruling. Neither are immigrants who are appearing in master calendar hearings, where multiple people appear at the same time. These groups will continue to wear shackles in the courtroom.
Attorneys arguing for the change said that wearing shackles was embarrassing and made the people wearing them feel like criminals. They said judges could be negatively affected by the visual impact. They argued that would then negatively affect the way they perceived the person appearing in court.
The ruling is only applicable to people appearing in a San Francisco immigration courtroom. It has not yet been adopted by other California courts. Proponents are hoping it spreads and improves the rights of many people who are working their way through the immigration system.
Source: Los Angeles Times, Shackling to end at San Francisco immigration court, Cindy Chang, Jan. 23, 2014