Following Advocacy from Civil Rights and Youth Justice Advocates, Attorney General Grewal Announces All NJ Kids in JJC Facilities Will be Tested for COVID-19
NEWARK – After ongoing advocacy from civil rights groups including the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, Salvation & Social Justice, and the 150 Years is Enough campaign, NJ Attorney General Gurbir Grewal announced today that every youth in the state’s Juvenile Justice Commission facilities will be tested for COVID-19.
Recent weeks have shown a steady uptick of both youth and staff testing positive in JJC facilities, where youth are living in close quarters, away from their families who are unable to visit them, and up until today, were only tested if they presented symptoms. As of today, 20 youth and 32 staff are reported to have tested positive.
“This welcome announcement once again shows that advocacy works,” said Andrea McChristian, Law & Policy Director for the Institute. “We know that public health crises reveal cracks in society’s foundation, and that those cracks become earthquakes in Black and communities of color. The health crisis in New Jersey’s youth prisons is an unfortunate but predictable manifestation of that syndrome. The least we can do is make sure our kids – and they are kids – are being tested and cared for, and we commend Attorney General Grewal for taking this important first step.”
“New Jersey’s youth justice system, housing primarily Black and other kids of color, is troubling in the best of times – and lethal in times of public health crises,” said Rev. Charles Boyer, Founder of Salvation & Social Justice. “All of the youth in JJC facilities should be assessed for safe and humane release. In the meantime, getting every kid tested and, when necessary, given medical attention, is a crucial step.”
With this announcement, New Jersey becomes the first state in the nation to commit to testing all of its youth in JJC facilities.
“We knew the minute this health crisis started that our incarcerated youth were in trouble, so we sprang into action,” said Retha Onitiri, Director of Community Engagement at the Institute. “It is heartening to see that New Jersey has begun to be responsive to this problem by implementing universal testing.”
The New Jersey advocacy has been part of a national effort coordinated by the Youth First Initiative to care for incarcerated youth during the pandemic.