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COVID-19 Leading to “Extremely Isolating” Experience for Detained KY Youth

Juvenile-court officials say school closures because of the coronavirus pandemic have contributed to the nationwide drop in youth arrests and detention. (Adobe Stock)
Juvenile-court officials say school closures because of the coronavirus pandemic have contributed to the nationwide drop in youth arrests and detention. (Adobe Stock)
May 5, 2020

COVINGTON, Ky. -- Juvenile courts report arrests of young people have dropped since the coronavirus pandemic began. Data from the Annie E. Casey Foundation show the number of kids in local youth detention centers across thirty states dipped by 24% in March alone.

Children's Law Center of Kentucky executive director Acena Beck said pre-trial detentions are being avoided, and most juvenile court proceedings in the Commonwealth are taking place by teleconference or Zoom.

"Because we're now trying to divert kids from detention, there's probably kids in there that could be successful with some alternative," Beck said. "So, I hope that mentality continues beyond the current crisis that we're in."

In April, the ACLU of Kentucky sent a letter to the state Department of Juvenile Justice inquiring about the status of children in a Jefferson County juvenile detention center after the facility temporarily closed and moved its youths to other facilities. Commissioner LaShana Harris said she made the decision to suspend operations at the center in response to the, "elevated risk of exposure to the coronavirus."

Beck added that having to quarantine for two weeks after being detained and being housed in long-term detention during a pandemic is an extremely isolating situation that raises concerns about kids' mental health.

"Because you now have visits cut off, in-person visits from your family and, in most circumstances, your attorney," she said. "Even though facilities are allowing remote visitation via Zoom, they're still not getting that in-person connection."

She also said since the state Legislature made reforms to the juvenile justice system in 2013, the Commonwealth's youth-detention population has steadily declined, so much so that some facilities have closed. But she said more could be done.

"We still have juveniles in Kentucky that are in detention," she said. "Of those juveniles that are still detained, there's still many that could be released that could be released to the community safely."

ACLU of Kentucky is urging the state to halt new admissions to detention facilities, release youths, modify rules for youths on probation and place a moratorium on the collection of court fines and fees.

Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - KY