Reports on Youth Incarceration and Parents’ Insights During COVID-19

Posted August 16, 2022, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

A Black mother and her teenage son embrace, while smiling.

Two new reports on COVID-19 and the juve­nile jus­tice sys­tem were released at the annu­al con­fer­ence of the Coali­tion for Juve­nile Jus­tice in 2022. Fund­ed by the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion, the respec­tive stud­ies dis­cuss insights from fam­i­lies of youth in cus­tody about COVID-19’s effects on their chil­dren and strate­gies for reduc­ing the system’s reliance on youth incar­cer­a­tion dur­ing the pandemic.

Four nation­al research and advo­ca­cy orga­ni­za­tions — the Cen­ter for Children’s Law and Pol­i­cy, Jus­tice for Fam­i­lies, the Jus­tice Pol­i­cy Insti­tute and the Nation­al Juve­nile Jus­tice Net­work — joint­ly devel­oped and pro­duced the two reports.

These stud­ies and forth­com­ing pub­li­ca­tions from the col­lab­o­rat­ing orga­ni­za­tions com­ple­ment the Casey Foundation’s Youth Deten­tion Sur­vey Dur­ing COVID-19, which assess­es the effect of the pan­dem­ic on youth deten­tion trends nation­wide by cap­tur­ing data in close to real time from a large num­ber of jurisdictions.

Insights from Families

Sum­ma­riz­ing the insights and rec­om­men­da­tions of a diverse group of par­ents and care­givers, this report focus­es on the expe­ri­ences of youth in cus­tody and their fam­i­lies dur­ing the pan­dem­ic. Among the chal­lenges iden­ti­fied by par­ents: con­tact with fam­i­lies was severe­ly dis­rupt­ed for youth in secure facil­i­ties fol­low­ing the onset of COVID-19; facil­i­ty com­mu­ni­ca­tion with par­ents about their children’s health and where­abouts was poor; and some youth expe­ri­enced longer peri­ods of con­fine­ment because of pan­dem­ic-affect­ed court processes.

The par­tic­i­pat­ing par­ents pro­vid­ed sev­er­al rec­om­men­da­tions for bet­ter sup­port of youth in cus­tody and their fam­i­lies, including:

  • cre­ate a fam­i­ly liai­son in youth facil­i­ties to man­age com­mu­ni­ca­tion with families;
  • pri­or­i­tize in-per­son vis­i­ta­tion and cre­ative think­ing to ensure that youth see care­givers and oth­ers; and
  • increase med­ical per­son­nel in facil­i­ties to ensure con­ti­nu­ity in admin­is­ter­ing med­ica­tion and access to high-qual­i­ty med­ical care.

Youth Incar­cer­a­tion Dur­ing the Pandemic

A sneak peek” at find­ings from a more detailed study to fol­low, this report exam­ines five juris­dic­tions’ effec­tive strate­gies for reduc­ing youth incar­cer­a­tion dur­ing the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic. Rec­om­mend­ed strate­gies include:

  • expand­ing diver­sion eli­gi­bil­i­ty and pro­gram­ming to shrink the flow of youth into the jus­tice system;
  • keep­ing court cas­es mov­ing to lim­it back­log and pre­vent youth from get­ting stuck” in deten­tion; and
  • safe­ly expe­dit­ing release from deten­tion and com­mit­ment placements.

The report also explores chal­lenges faced by the five juris­dic­tions — for exam­ple, reduc­ing iso­la­tion and increas­ing sup­ports for young peo­ple in insti­tu­tion­al set­tings; expand­ing alter­na­tives to deten­tion for youth in con­flict with their fam­i­lies; and imple­ment­ing strate­gies to reduce racial and eth­nic dis­par­i­ties in youth incarceration.

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