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Pleading for Release of Incarcerated Kids in Illinois

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Wednesday, March 18, 2020   

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- As state officials continually review and implement measures to reduce the spread of the new coronavirus, criminal justice groups say the youths in conflict with the law should be a priority.

Elizabeth Clarke, president of the Juvenile Justice Initiative, contended that Illinois needs to limit confinement of children and young adults immediately by setting 14 as the minimum age for detention. She also said detention shouldn't be an option for kids facing low-level property or technical violations and charges of failure to appear.

"In other developed countries, it's used very sparingly -- removing, especially children, from home," she said, "and this is an opportunity for us to become more consistent with these international levels of the use of incarceration."

Clarke said such protections are the cornerstone of justice policy in other nations. She cited Hamburg, Germany, as an example -- with one-tenth the incarcerated population of Cook County.

Clarke said maintaining public safety would be easier by avoiding the trauma and disruption to education that kids go through when they're incarcerated. She noted that managing a highly contagious disease such as the new coronavirus in prisons and detention centers is extremely difficult, which adds urgency to this issue.

"In light of community safety, you want to make sure that the levels of people in residential facilities are as low as possible," she said, "because you have staff going in and out, and they're breeding grounds for all kinds of disease, let alone for this virus."

On Tuesday, about 30 elected prosecutors in various U.S. cities called for immediate actions to mitigate community spread of COVID-19 among the 2.3 million adults and children held in prisons, jails, youth correctional facilities, immigration detention centers and other places of confinement.

Disclosure: Juvenile Justice Initiative contributes to our fund for reporting on Children's Issues, Criminal Justice, Juvenile Justice, Youth Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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