There are more than 43,000 youth in juvenile justice facilities right now. As the country grapples with the global COVID-19 pandemic, youth in the justice system should not be left behind in public health efforts. Organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have acknowledged that the COVID-19 pandemic poses a risk to the mental as well as physical health of the nation, especially to its children and teens. Experts note that young people are “more vulnerable to the emotional impact of traumatic events that disrupt their daily lives” and the critical importance of protecting their well being during events like the COVID-19 pandemic. Articles from the Marshall Project and NBC News documents the fear and uncertainty that youth in custody feel, quoting several facility and county officials who maintain that COVID-19 is a “nightmare scenario” in juvenile institutions, and that some youth have “said they feel they have disappeared, and asked a school staff member to tell their parents they love them.”
Youth in custody cannot engage in social distancing. Moreover, facilities faced with staffing and volunteer shortages may resort to solitary confinement as a default housing strategy for youth. Almost all facilities are eliminating visits between young people and their families, which is the exact type of support that youth need during uncertain times. Although the CDC and WHO recommend that adults take certain steps to ease the potential stress on teens during this period, none of these steps can be taken to help youth in custody, who are enduring the additional stress of separation from their families. An article from the Marshall Project highlights how parents and incarcerated youth are confronting the anguish of not being able to see one another through this crisis.
Physicians for Criminal Justice Reform called on juvenile court systems and juvenile detention and correctional facilities to immediately release as many youth as possible from detention and correctional facilities and halt all new admissions to juvenile facilities. Some states like California are taking action to halt the admission of youth into juvenile facilities.
The Youth First Initiative has coordinated youth justice advocates across 22 states urging states to halt low-level arrests and to quickly release youth from facilities to minimize the risk of exposure to COVID-19. Other organizations like the National Juvenile Justice Network (NJJN) have created extensive resource banks on how to protect incarcerated youth during the crisis. SSK is updating a list of statements from leading organizations on the need to (1) release as many youth as possible from facilities and (2) limit the use of isolation, and (3) ensure that youth have access to engaging programming, supportive staff, and contact with families via video or phone.
Statements and Recommendations
- Center for Children’s Law and Policy (CCLP): Statement on Urgent Action Need for Youth Justice Professionals in the Wake of the COVID-19 Pandemic.
- CJJA Issue Brief: COVID-19 Practice, Policy & Emergency Protocols in State Juvenile Facilities, May 2020.
- Statement from national expert Dr. Craig Haney on Physical and Emotional Impact of Incarcerating Youth During COVID-19.
- Child Trends, Resources for Supporting Children’s Emotional Well-being during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Guidance on Managing Anxiety and Stress for Youth.
- National Governors Association (NGA).
- National Juvenile Defender Center (NJDC), Guidance for Juvenile Courts on Remote Hearings During COVID-19.
- National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) Statement on Incarcerating Youth with Disabilities
- Physicians for Criminal Justice Reform – COVID19 Risks to Incarcerated and Detained Youth.
- World Health Organization (WHO), Helping Children Cope with Stress During the COVID-19 Outbreak.
- Justice Roundtable: Federal Recommendations for Protecting Incarcerated Youth and Adults During the COVID-19 Pandemic.
- LBJ School: Recommended Strategies for Sheriffs & Jails to Respond to COVID.
- Sentencing Project’s Daily Tracker of COVID Cases in Youth Facilities
- University of California San Franciso School of Medicine, Amend
- Youth Correctional Leaders for Justice: Recommendations for Youth Justice Systems During the COVID-19 Emergency. See this article in the Crime Report.
- Youth First – Youth Justice in 22 States Demand Governors and System Leaders Release Incarcerated Youth During COVID-19 Pandemic. Read more in this article.
Sites and Organizations with Resources
- Council of Juvenile Justice Administrators (CJJA).
- Center for Juvenile Justice Reform at Georgetown.
- Chronicle of Social Change database of COVID-19 reporting on juvenile and child welfare.
- Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) on JDAIconnect. Available to anyone who creates a username.
- Justice Action Network, Updates on State and Local Responses to COVID-19.
- Justice Policy Institute news on COVID-19 in jails and prison.
- National Association of Counties (NACo).
- National Juvenile Defender Center (NJDC) (log-in required).
- National Juvenile Justice Network (NJJN): Resources Compiled Regarding COVID-19 and Vulnerable Populations. Document tracking responses from jurisdictions.
- National Commission on Correctional Health Care (NCCHHC). NCCHC and Major County Sheriffs offer a weekly webinar with updates and insights.
- National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ).
- National Partnership for Juvenile Services (NPJS).
- The Appeal – Tracker on Coronavirus Responses from State & Local Governments
- UCLA Covid-19 Behind Bars Data Project (tracks conditions and efforts to decrease jail and prison populations).
COVID-19 Legal Action: Youth in Custody
- The Maryland Office of the Public Defender submitted a Petition for Immediate and Extraordinary Relief asking the court to use its plenary authority to immediately reduce the number of youth in juvenile jails and juvenile prisons in Maryland.
- On April 1, the Juvenile Law Center (JLC) filed an Application for Extraordinary Relief in the PA Supreme Court, on behalf of all youth in detention, correctional and other residential placements, as well as youth charged as adults in jails or detention centers, seeking an immediate review of all cases to begin reducing population across the state In light of COVID 19. Read the petition here. While JLC’s application was denied, the PA Supreme Court did issue a strong order regarding the protection of youth in custody.