On Wednesday, May 6, 2020, Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Joni Ernst (R-IA) urged the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) to issue best practices and guidelines to prevent infections in juvenile detention facilities. The Senators reported that as of May 5, there were “at least 204 juvenile offenders and more than 350 employees at juvenile detention facilities across the country who have been diagnosed with COVID-19.
In the letter, the Senators stated that “we have seen the exponential and deadly spread of the virus in federal and state prisons for adult offenders, with the number of positive cases increasing on a daily basis. Our children, including juvenile offenders, are vulnerable members of our society and Congress has recognized the critical protections that all children deserve when detained in a juvenile detention center. We cannot overlook these children in these dire times.”
According to the letter, OJJDP is the only sub-agencies within the federal executive agencies that has not provided best practices or distilled information from CDC – online. New Jersey is the first state that will test every youth and staff with their juvenile system and Ohio is routinely testing youth for COVID-19 before being released from facilities. Many advocates have recommended that all juveniles be released unless they pose a “substantial safety risk to others,” including the Juvenile Justice Coalition.