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Coronavirus Criminal Justice Submission

COVID Crisis Linked to Decline in Youth Detention

According to Jessica Feierman, senior managing director of the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania has seen a similar decline, but it has been uneven.

“We believe that some counties in Pennsylvania have really significantly reduced the number of youths in detention centers, and that others have not done as much,” she states.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied a petition for rapid review and release of youths in detention, but directed judges statewide to consider the public health crisis in their decisions.

Nate Balis, director of The Casey Foundation’s Juvenile Justice Strategy Group, says the COVID-19 pandemic may finally bring about a “right-sizing” of the nation’s juvenile detention system.

“We could emerge from the pandemic with a detention population that truly is young people who pose an immediate community safety risk rather than all kinds of young people who are not a risk to public safety,” he states.

Balis notes that youths often are sent to secure detention for minor offenses that don’t pose a real threat to community safety. 

Feierman says the Juvenile Law Center is working to release as many youths from detention as possible, and to ensure that those who remain have basic rights, including access to education, visitation and safe living conditions.

“Our hope is that, to the extent that we are able to reduce population during this crisis, it’s not a short-lived change and we can truly transform the justice system to support young people in an ongoing way years in the future,” she states.

The Casey Foundation plans to continue conducting its monthly survey of juvenile detention facilities for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis.

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