Youth Justice Advocates in 22 States Demand Governors and System Leaders Release Incarcerated Youth Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

Advocates urge governors and system administrators to stop new admissions, remove youth from facilities to reduce youth risk of infection

Washington, D.C. — Today, youth justice advocates in twenty-two states (listed below) demanded in letters sent to governors, juvenile justice system administrators, and other state and local officials the release of detained and incarcerated youth and the halting of new admissions to protect youth from the spread of COVID-19.

State advocates outlined several measures, including examining all pre- and post-adjudication release processes and mechanisms and to begin employing these as quickly as possible; removing youth who have COVID-19 symptoms or chronic illnesses, such as asthma, diabetes or other serious illnesses; and eliminating any form of detention or incarceration for youth unless a determination is made that a youth is a substantial safety risk to others.

“As the country continues to address the pandemic, we cannot leave behind our nearly 43,000 young people in custody,” said Liz Ryan, CEO of the Youth First Initiative . “Youth prisons and detention facilities are harmful to youth under normal circumstances and are simply not equipped to protect young people should an outbreak occur.”

Research shows that incarcerated populations are most at risk during a public health crisis. Youth detention centers and prisons commonly cage children in unsanitary, close quarters and conditions. While imprisoned, young people are unable to keep themselves safe by practicing social distancing, frequently washing hands, or staying in sanitized spaces. As COVID-19 spreads quickly in enclosed spaces, such as cruise ships and nursing homes, it can spread just as quickly in detention centers, prisons and jails, and prisons are not equipped to handle the medical needs of youth if a COVID-19 outbreak should occur inside a juvenile detention or correctional facility.

State advocates plan to continue speaking out until state and local officials take action to protect youth in custody from the risk of COVID-19 infection.

State campaigns are listed below and all letters can be found here.

1. California (Youth Justice Coalition)

2. Connecticut (Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance)

3. Florida (Southern Poverty Law Center)

4. Illinois (Illinois Juvenile Justice Initiative)

5. Iowa (Iowa Disability Rights)

6. Kansas (The Seed House & Progeny / Invest Don’t Arrest Campaign)

7. Louisiana (Families & Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Youth)

Louisiana (Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights)

8. Maine (Maine Youth Justice)

9. Maryland (Maryland Medical Society)

10. Massachusetts (Citizens for Juvenile Justice)

11. Michigan (Michigan Center for Youth Justice)

12. Mississippi (Southern Poverty Law Center)

13. Missouri (Empower Missouri)

14. Nebraska (Voices for Children in Nebraska)

15. New Jersey (New Jersey Institute for Social Justice / #150YearsIsEnough)

16. New York (Raise the Age Campaign)

17. Ohio (Juvenile Justice Coalition)

18. Pennsylvania (Village of Arts and Humanities)

19. Tennessee (JustCity)

20. Texas (Texas Criminal Justice Coalition)

Texas (Texas Appleseed)

21. Washington State (Team Child)

22. West Virginia (ACLU West Virginia

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