During the current national emergency, there are more vulnerable groups children who may have been forgotten—youth in the child welfare system and youth in the juvenile justice system. As this pandemic creates health and economic challenges it is important that we do not forget about children currently in juvenile detention facilities.
Advocates like the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) and the Sentencing Project have been monitoring juvenile detention facilities on those who have tested positive for COVID-19. As of April 16, 2020, they reported 68 children in juvenile facilities nationwide and a total of 127 workers who have contracted COVID-19. In this global pandemic, many states and jurisdictions have begun to release children from detention and divert children from being detained. NDRN press release highlighted how children with disabilities are unable to return home due to the lack of community-based services and supports. NDRN recommendation includes dedicated funding be including in the fourth COVID-19 relief package to assist states in finding placements and community supports for vulnerable children in state custody and children with disabilities in detention.
It is important that during this time we bring home as many children as possible from juvenile justice detention centers and other congregate care placements in light of the health and safety concerns for the children, staff, and the community at large. Judge Steven Teske from the Juvenile Court of Clayton County, Georgia and the former Chair of the Coalition for Juvenile Justice (CJJ) signed an order on Sunday, April 5, 2020 allowing youth to leave detention to be with their families during this pandemic. This action reduces the county’s detained population by 73 percent, and four youth remain in detention due to awaiting trial on violent felony offenses. Judge Teske stated that “There is truly a lot we can do if we are willing to extend ourselves during this crisis and act like that is our child that is in that detention center.”