Youth prisons house some of the most medically vulnerable youth in the US putting them in jeopardy of contracting or spreading COVID-19, according to a statement issued today by Youth Correctional Leaders for Justice (YCLJ), a group comprised of youth corrections officials who do or have run such youth facilities.
Their Recommendations for Youth Justice Systems During COVID-19, signed onto by more than 30 current and former youth correctional administrators, include:
- Release youth who can be safely cared for in their homes.
- End probation supervision for youth who are doing well.
- Reduce the number of youth entering the system through collaboration with police and courts.
- End juvenile justice system fines and fees.
- Establish a Coronavirus safety plan, including procedures to protect medically vulnerable youth.
- Ensure continued family contact through videoconferencing and other practices that minimize risk of infection.
- Maintain a productive schedule, including schooling and activities formerly led by volunteers, and help youth process the experience of the epidemic which is causing anxiety to many.
The statement notes that while children are generally considered at lower risk from the virus, youth in the juvenile justice system are typically less healthy than their peers. There are high rates of asthma among system-involved youth, a condition that is associated with more severe illness in those who contract Coronavirus. Massive COVID-19 infections were reported in prisons in China and Iran, underscoring the need to protect youth in such facilities.
“As a nation, we have decided that it is not safe for our children to be in school together. That means it is certainly not safe for them to live in congregate facilities with hundreds of other youth, 24/7,” said Vincent Schiraldi, co-chair of the YCLJ. “Those of us who have run these places know that the idea of social distancing is preposterous in such an environment, and introducing the virus to a locked facility would be devastating.”