Limited Visits to Juvenile Facilities Worry Advocates

Detention center workers escort youths through the halls of the Orange Regional Juvenile Detention Center. (PHELAN M. EBENHACK / ORLANDO SENTINEL)

by Dana Cassidy
Orlando Sentinel
June 18, 2020

COVID-19 Limits on Visits to Juvenile Detention Facilities Leave Advocates Worried

Visitation at all Department of Juvenile Justice facilities was suspended in mid-March. The agency has slowly begun allowing visitation through modified schedules to maintain social distancing at facilities with no active COVID-19 cases, agency spokeswoman Amanda Slama said.

While acknowledging the need for added precautions during the coronavirus pandemic, experts and advocates are concerned about the mental and physical well-being of those in facilities with positive cases. They urge officials to minimize youth incarceration and offer free and easily accessible telecommunication.

Not being able to see family in person for a prolonged period can be incredibly harmful for children, said Jeffrey Butts, a research professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. He called it a destructive practice that prioritizes the institution’s needs over the children’s.

“Responding to a virus by just excluding the community to the facility hopefully is a short-term solution,” Butts said.

.. The pandemic has delayed the transition of some juveniles from temporary holding centers to programs where they will serve their sentence, Morton said. The ACLU and similar organizations are advocating for local law enforcement to incarcerate fewer young people during the pandemic.

“If the goal is to prevent them from getting in trouble again, prevent their behavior from becoming any worse, having them confined to a building does nothing to achieve that,” Butts said.

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