COVID-19 Resources

There are more than 43,000 youth in juvenile justice facilities right now. As the country grapples with the global COVID-19 pandemic, youth in the justice system should not be left behind in public health efforts. Organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have acknowledged that the COVID-19 pandemic poses a risk to the mental as well as physical health of the nation, especially to its children and teens. Experts note that young people are “more vulnerable to the emotional impact of traumatic events that disrupt their daily lives” and the critical importance of protecting their well being during events like the COVID-19 pandemic. An article in NBC News documents the fear and uncertainty that youth in custody feel, quoting several facility and county officials who maintain that COVID-19 is a “nightmare scenario” in juvenile detention.

Youth in custody cannot engage in social distancing. Moreover, facilities faced with staffing and volunteer shortages may resort to solitary confinement as a default housing strategy for youth. Almost all facilities are eliminating visits between young people and their families, which is the exact type of support that youth need during uncertain times. Although the CDC and WHO recommend that adults take certain steps to ease the potential stress on teens during this period, none of these steps can be taken to help youth in custody, who are enduring the additional stress of separation from their families. An article from the Marshall Project highlights how parents and incarcerated youth are confronting the anguish of not being able to see one another through this crisis.

Physicians for Criminal Justice Reform called on juvenile court systems and juvenile detention and correctional facilities to immediately release as many youth as possible from detention and correctional facilities and halt all new admissions to juvenile facilities. Some states like California are taking action to halt the admission of youth into juvenile facilities.

The Youth First Initiative has coordinated youth justice advocates across 22 states urging states to halt low-level arrests and to quickly release youth from facilities to minimize the risk of exposure to COVID-19. Other organizations like the National Juvenile Justice Network (NJJN) have created extensive resource banks on how to protect incarcerated youth during the crisis. SSK is updating a list of statements from leading organizations on the need to (1) release as many youth as possible from facilities and (2) limit the use of isolation, and (3) ensure that youth have access to engaging programming, supportive staff, and contact with families via video or phone.

Statements and Recommendations

Sites and Organizations with Resources