Institute and Other Groups Ask Gov. Murphy to Protect Incarcerated Youth During COVID-19 Pandemic
New Juvenile Detention Admissions Should be Halted and Incarcerated Youth Should be Removed from Facilities
NEWARK – In light of the public health threat to incarcerated youth during the COVID-19 pandemic, the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice and its partners in the 150 Years is Enough campaign today asked Gov. Murphy to halt new admissions to juvenile detention in New Jersey, and to remove currently incarcerated youth from detention facilities.
The Institute, Salvation & Social Justice, and the NAACP New Jersey State Conference told the Governor that, “Research by health care experts shows that incarcerated populations are most at risk during a public health crisis. COVID-19 spread quickly in enclosed spaces such as cruise ships and nursing homes and it will spread just as quickly in detention centers, prisons, and jails.”
The letter also stated, “While New Jersey has canceled visits for youths’ families, we believe that this is not a time for youth to be separated from their families. This will only exacerbate mental health issues and further isolate youth. Further, youth detention and correctional facilities are unlikely equipped to meet the medical needs of youth if a COVID-19 outbreak inside juvenile detention or correctional facility should occur.”
The letter to Gov. Murphy lays out detailed guidance for how to safely and humanely make the changes that are necessary during these trying times, and requests that the Governor’s office provide its emergency plan for addressing the current crisis.
A full copy of the letter is below and can be found here.
March 19, 2020
The Honorable Philip Murphy Governor
State of New Jersey
Office of the Governor P.O. Box 001 Trenton, New Jersey 98625
Dear Governor Murphy,
On behalf of the 150 Years is Enough Campaign, we are writing to share our concerns about the impact of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) virus on incarcerated youth.
As states across the country undertake steps to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus, closing schools, canceling events, and shifting to supporting children in their homes and communities, one group of young people is being left behind: the nearly 50,000 youth in custody in the United States.
Research by health care experts shows that incarcerated populations are most at risk during a public health crisis. COVID-19 spread quickly in enclosed spaces such as cruise ships and nursing homes and it will spread just as quickly in detention centers, prisons, and jails. Contagious viruses such as COVID-19 spread much faster in detention centers and prisons as incarcerated youth are in close quarters and sometimes in unsanitary conditions. Behind bars, youth are not able to participate in proactive measures to keep themselves safe, such as social distancing, frequently washing hands, or staying in sanitized spaces. Infection control is a challenge in these situations as incarcerated youth are often in large congregate and communal settings. Even if youth are in individual cells, ventilation is often inadequate. When traveling to and from court, hearings or legal appointments, it is harder to stop the spread of a virus while handcuffed or shackled.
While New Jersey has canceled visits for youths’ families, we believe that this is not a time for youth to be separated from their families. This will only exacerbate mental health issues and further isolate youth. Further, youth detention and correctional facilities are unlikely equipped to meet the medical needs of youth if a COVID-19 outbreak inside juvenile detention or correctional facility should occur. Youth will not have many options to stay away from other youth if they become ill and there are limited infirmary beds. If staff become ill, it will be difficult to provide care and support to youth and if lockdowns are utilized, that will only intensify virus infection rates.
To prevent the spread of COVID-19, we urge you to publicly share your emergency plan for addressing COVID-19 in the juvenile justice system, including the adoption of these measures to protect youth under the supervision of the juvenile justice system:
1. Immediately halting new admissions to juvenile detention and correctional facilities and initiating the removal of youth from juvenile detention and correctional facilities by:
a. Examining all pre- and post-adjudication release processes and mechanisms and begin employing these as quickly as possible;
b. Removing youth who have COVID-19 symptoms; chronic illnesses, such as asthma or diabetes; other serious illnesses; or are in need of medical care;
c. Eliminating any form of detention or incarceration for youth unless a determination is made that a youth is a substantial and immediate safety risk to others.
2. While youth are awaiting release:
a. Provide written and verbal communications to youth on COVID-19, access to medical care, and community based supports;
b. Ensure continued access to education;
c. Ensure access to legal counsel through confidential visits or teleconferencing; d. Since family visits have been halted, ensure access to family contacts;
e. Guarantee access to unlimited, free phone calls.
3. Create transitional plans for youth released from custody to: a. Ensure they have a place to live;
b. Meet their basic needs;
c. Receive immediate & adequate medical care; d. Ensure immediate access to Medicaid.
4. For youth on probation:
a. Eliminate incarceration as an option for technical violations of probation;
b. Allow youth to travel and access medical care, stay isolated when necessary, and take care of themselves and their families;
c. Eliminate requirements for in-person meetings with their probation officers;
d. Place a moratorium on all requirements to attend and pay for court and Probation-ordered programs, community service and labor.
5. Expand community-based programs for youth in the justice system by investing $100 million so that they are effectively supported in their communities.
If you have additional questions or need more information, you can reach us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at [609-xxx-xxxx].
Thank you for your time and consideration. We look forward to hearing from you.
150 Years Is Enough Campaign
New Jersey Institute for Social Justice
New Jersey State Conference of NAACP
Salvation and Social Justice