Keep young people in custody safe, justice agency urges

A leading youth justice agency is calling on the state’s elected officials to take immediate steps to better protect confined youths from the COVID-19 virus.

Remedy steps could include scaling back arrests, halting admissions, releasing as many youths as possible, and ensuring access to mental health care for those who cannot safely be sent home.

“As Michigan undertakes critical steps to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus by closing schools, canceling events and supporting young people in their homes, one group of extremely vulnerable children is being left behind: youth who are in custody,” wrote Mary King, executive director of the Michigan Center for Youth Justice (MCYJ). “To stave off a public health emergency in our youth detention and residential facilities, we must continue to immediately and dramatically reduce the number of children who are incarcerated.”

King, whose letter was sent to more than a dozen government officials and organizations including Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Prosecutors Association of Michigan, noted that several juvenile courts have taken a good first step by allowing for remote reporting. MCYJ recommends that state and local officials, law enforcement, courts and youth detention and residential facilities now take such actions as:

? Decline to arrest young people for minor disciplinary issues.

? Halt new admissions to youth detention and residential facilities and initiate the removal of all youths who are not a safety risk from those facilities.

? For those who must remain confined, allow video access to family and reduce the risk of exposure; do not compromise children’s safety, mental health or legal rights.

? Ensure that youths who are released have a place to stay and access to medical care.

? Make allowances for youths on probation, including the prohibition of confinement for technical violations, and allowing remote reporting.

“As a society, we have a shared responsibility to take care of our young people, especially during such a dangerous and unprecedented global pandemic,” King wrote. 

The MCYJ is a nonprofit dedicated to creating a more fair and effective justice system for the state’s youths.

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