In re C.Z.

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Detention centers, jails, and other congregate care facilities are breeding grounds for the highly contagious COVID-19 virus. For the safety of youth, staff and community, children who can be safely released to family should be sent home—with supports as needed—and others should be sent to appropriate, safe community placements.
 
Juvenile Law Center, the Youth Sentencing  & Reentry Project and DLA Piper filed a King’s Bench Petition in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on behalf of all Pennsylvania youth currently held in juvenile detention centers, county jails, or longer term correctional or residential placements during the COVID-19 crisis.
 
Our Petition urges the Court to exercise its extraordinary relief powers to minimize both the number of youth currently detained and those who are entering facilities by immediately ordering the release of all youth who do not pose an immediate, specific and articulable risk of physical harm to others and by prohibiting the detention of specific other youth for: technical probation violations, failure or inability to pay fines, fees, or bail, or failure to appear. The Petition further articulates that all youth, regardless of the seriousness of their crime, have a right to safety and protection from contagion and that failure to reduce the numbers of youth in custody during the pandemic greatly increases the risk of catastrophic health consequences for youth, the staff who work in these facilities, and the communities in which they live.
 
“As most of us are effectively sheltering in place to avoid COVID 19 transmission, we cannot allow our vulnerable youth to be left behind in physical settings that actually promote, rather than impede or stop, exposure and contagion. . . . We seek extraordinary action in response to extraordinary times.” ~ Marsha Levick, Chief Legal Officer of Juvenile Law Center.

In an order dated April 7, 2020, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied the King’s Bench Petition, but conceded that “[t]he potential outbreak of COVID-19 in facilities housing juveniles in detention poses an undeniable threat to the health of juvenile detainees, facility staff and their families, and the surrounding community” and that “action to mitigate the potential of a public health crisis is appropriate.” The court further directed President Judges “to engage with all relevant county stakeholders to review immediately the current capabilities of residential placements within their counties where judges have placed juveniles to address the spread of COVID-19, . . . consult with relevant county stakeholders to identify juveniles and/or classes of juveniles for potential release from placement to reduce the current and future populations of the institutions,” and “undertake efforts to limit the introduction of new juveniles into the juvenile detention system during the COVID-19 pandemic.”