Calls to Release Youth from Lockups Due to Virus Threat Grow Nationwide

Jeremy Loudenback, The Chronicle of Social Change •

With most free residents across the United States keeping at least six feet apart, feverishly washing their hands and avoiding any social groups, 43,000 young people in juvenile lockups and prisons are living in coronavirus petri dishes that have become “brewing reservoirs” of infection, according to inmates and juvenile justice experts.

Advocates in dozens of states from California to Louisiana and New York are calling for the immediate release of any young people now in custody who can safely be sent home, and in some parts of the country those releases have already begun.

In a petition filed today with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court seeking “extraordinary relief powers,” youthful offenders state they are sleeping in open dorms, with beds permanently secured to the floor just a few feet from each other. They have spotty access to protective gear and hand sanitizer, and are often cleaning without proper disinfectant supplies. When correctional staff become infected with COVID-19, court filings show, attempts to quarantine youth have been haphazard, with common areas and shared phones still rife for the spread of the virus.

About the Expert

Marsha Levick co-founded Juvenile Law Center in 1975. Throughout her legal career, Levick has been an advocate for children’s and women's rights and is a nationally recognized expert in juvenile law.