Wyden, Harris, Merkley, Colleagues Press Trump Administration on the Health and Safety of Youth in Juvenile Detention During COVID-19

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Kamala D. Harris, D-Calif., led 14 colleagues, including Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., in pressing the Trump administration for answers regarding the health and safety of young people detained in juvenile facilities across the country.

In a letter to Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) Administrator Caren Harp, the senators requested the agency make public the measures it has taken to protect incarcerated youth from COVID-19, as well as the ways OJJDP is meeting its responsibility to safely provide the youth in its care opportunities for education, rehabilitation and development. 

The senators wrote, “COVID-19 thrives in juvenile detention facilities … This reality substantially increases the risk of transmission for juvenile detainees and for the families to which they will be reunited and the staff assigned to supervise and educate them. As a result of the virus, young people are receiving fewer services while in confinement, continue to be isolated from family and community supports, and may have limited access to education and other programming.”

The senators also stressed the increased risk to individuals with underlying health conditions and Black and Hispanic youth in juvenile detention: “While COVID-19 poses a risk to the health and safety of all youth and staff within the facility, some youth are at higher risk as a result of underlying health conditions. For these youth, additional testing and safety measures may be warranted. Furthermore, because the majority of youth in detention are Black or Hispanic, the spread of COVID-19 within juvenile detention may further perpetuate the disparate impact of the virus along racial and ethnic lines.”

“While some states have released incarcerated youth into community care to stem the spread of disease, there is a lack of transparency regarding how juvenile detention facilities are handling the effects of the pandemic,” the senators concluded.

Currently, 463 incarcerated young people and 534 staff members in juvenile detention facilities have been diagnosed with COVID-19. As of October 2017, approximately 43,580 young people were incarcerated at state and local juvenile facilities across the country, with another 4,000 in adult facilities on any given day.

The senators requested a response from OJJDP Administrator Harp by June 12, 2020.

Joining Wyden, Harris and Merkley on the letter were U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Robert P. Casey, D-Pa., Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Cory A. Booker, D-N.J., Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., Christopher Coons, Del., Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill.

A copy of the letter is available here.

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