Juvenile Justice Priorities During and After the COVID-19 Pandemic

Posted April 6, 2020
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
juvenile justice and COVID-19

Across the coun­try, juve­nile jus­tice sys­tems are respond­ing with quick and com­mon-sense action to pre­vent the spread of COVID-19. Giv­en that any facil­i­ty where peo­ple are liv­ing in close quar­ters has the poten­tial for a full-blown health cri­sis, the pan­dem­ic under­scores the urgency of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s belief that young peo­ple belong with their fam­i­lies — not in insti­tu­tions — and accel­er­ates the long-stand­ing efforts of JDAI® sites to reduce unnec­es­sary confinement.

If there was ever a good time to make sure that not a sin­gle young per­son spends a sin­gle day in deten­tion or place­ment unless there is an imme­di­ate and severe risk to com­mu­ni­ty safe­ty, this is it,” says Nate Balis, direc­tor of the Foundation’s Juve­nile Jus­tice Strat­e­gy Group. 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.”

Video: Get­ting to zero in youth detention

As a result of the pan­dem­ic, JDAI sites are chang­ing prac­tices in their facil­i­ties and com­mu­ni­ties and work­ing around the clock to make sure that both young peo­ple and staff are safe. Keep­ing young peo­ple and fam­i­lies front and cen­ter, not to men­tion focus­ing on equi­ty, means that JDAI sites must con­tin­ue to look for any and all oppor­tu­ni­ties to reduce admis­sions to deten­tion and place­ment and get young peo­ple out faster,” Balis says.

Casey joins orga­ni­za­tions like the Cen­ter for Children’s Law and Pol­i­cy, a long­time provider of tech­ni­cal assis­tance to JDAI sites, in pro­mot­ing four impor­tant steps that juve­nile jus­tice agen­cies can take to help to lim­it the spread of COVID-19. These four steps are:

  1. Stop new admis­sions to juve­nile deten­tion, cor­rec­tion­al and place­ment facil­i­ties. Unless youth pose an imme­di­ate and sub­stan­tial risk to pub­lic safe­ty, alter­na­tives to out-of-home place­ments — includ­ing place­ment at home with terms and con­di­tions — should be the default response.
  2. Release young peo­ple from secure and group care set­tings as quick­ly and safe­ly as pos­si­ble. This includes uti­liz­ing pre- and post-adju­di­ca­tion process­es and poli­cies to release youth who do not pose an imme­di­ate and sub­stan­tial pub­lic safe­ty risk. Agency offi­cials will need to take steps to ensure that these youth have their basic needs met, includ­ing access to safe hous­ing and med­ical care.
  3. Pro­vide mean­ing­ful and devel­op­men­tal­ly appro­pri­ate sup­ports and ser­vices to the small num­ber of young peo­ple remain­ing in out-of-home con­fine­ment. Agency offi­cials should offer these youth rel­e­vant, edu­ca­tion­al pro­gram­ming as well as free, unlim­it­ed calls or video chats with sup­port­ive individuals.
  4. Sus­pend require­ments that are at odds with pub­lic health rec­om­men­da­tions for youth who are on pro­ba­tion or some form of com­mu­ni­ty super­vi­sion. Giv­en the poten­tial health risks of con­tact, any nec­es­sary inter­ac­tions with pro­ba­tion offi­cers or oth­ers should be done by phone or video con­fer­ence and tech­ni­cal vio­la­tions of pro­ba­tion — miss­ing a drug test or the like — should not result in youth going to court, let alone being incar­cer­at­ed or placed out of home.

As states across the coun­try have closed schools and can­celed events to pro­tect young peo­ple, youth in the jus­tice sys­tem should not be left behind in pub­lic health efforts,” notes Mark Sol­er, exec­u­tive direc­tor for the Cen­ter for Children’s Law and Policy.

Many juve­nile jus­tice prac­ti­tion­ers who are on the front lines of their agen­cies’ respons­es are using JDAIcon­nect, the free online com­mu­ni­ty for every­one inter­est­ed in youth jus­tice, to edu­cate and encour­age one anoth­er dur­ing this unprece­dent­ed sit­u­a­tion,” accord­ing to Balis. The grow­ing list of pan­dem­ic-relat­ed dis­cus­sion threads on JDAIcon­nect include entries on uti­liz­ing video­con­fer­enc­ing in juve­nile court hear­ings; elim­i­nat­ing fines and fees giv­en finan­cial strains on fam­i­lies; and man­ag­ing and moti­vat­ing staff who must report to facilities.

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