As COVID-19 cases skyrocket, advocates across the country are petitioning their respective states demanding that youth be released from juvenile halls. The luxury of adhering to shelter in place orders inside our homes is not afforded to incarcerated youth who cannot practice proper social and physical distancing as their autonomy is dictated by prison protocol.
Twenty five children have tested positive for the coronavirus at a Virginia juvenile detention center, HuffPost reports. The state of Louisiana has over two dozen juveniles in detention centers who have tested positive for COVID-19 as well. And at least 101 youth and 55 juvenile detention staff throughout the nation have tested positive for COVID-19, the Chronicle of Social Change reports.
The spread of the coronavirus, coupled with subpar living, working and food service conditions for the 45,000 youth housed in these detention centers, will only accelerate.
The city of New York began sending incarcerated youth who exhibit COVID-19 symptoms to a center separate from those who do not in an attempt to limit the spread. Organizers, advocates and community members are outraged.
Darek Robinson, president of the SEIU Local 371 union of social services workers, wrote a letter to the Administration for Children Services (ACS) stating, “We are alarmed by the Agency’s dangerous and unwise decision to concentrate all children who have tested positive for the coronavirus into the Horizon Juvenile Detention Center.”
According to Louisiana’s Office of Juvenile Justice, twenty seven youth and fourteen staff have tested positive for COVID-19. Parents and justice advocates believe that the state isn’t providing sufficient details regarding their plans to combat the virus and safeguard children within the prison system.
Nate Balis, director of the Juvenile Justice Strategy Group says, “This is the time for juvenile justice agencies to scrutinize every detention and placement decision and to review — if not reconsider — every policy that leans toward confinement.”
Allegations of human rights violations have surfaced in the state of Texas, claiming children are being held in lockup for more than 23 hours a day and are only allowed out to shower and make a phone call, the Houston Chronicle reports. Staff at Harris County Juvenile Probation Department reveal that the facility plans to increase the 1.5 hours of outside time to three hours for youth in their custody.
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Given the conditions of juvenile facilities and the concerns that community members have brought up, slowing the spread of COVID-19 within prisons and jails is just as important and necessary as slowing its persistence in the free world. The lack of care, resources and support young people receive in the prison system will only perpetuate contagion, and make these populations more vulnerable. Now is the time for decarceration and organizing around eradicating the prison system altogether.
Marsha Levick, chief legal officer of the Juvenile Law Center, issued a press statement requesting the release of juvenile hall detainees. In it, Levick states, “We cannot allow our vulnerable youth to be left behind in physical settings that actually promote, rather than impede or stop, exposure and contagion.”
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