COVID-19, News

Juvenile justice highlights COVID-19 response in new online post

North Carolina juvenile justice officials are highlighting their efforts online to keep youths safe from the spread of COVID-19.

They published a blog post earlier this week outlining changes within the system to help keep families connected. The changes, the post states, have helped contribute to reducing the daily juvenile detention population by 25 percent since the beginning of March, from 202 to 151 on Monday.

The reduction is notable, especially as the state Supreme Court considers an emergency request from criminal justice and civil rights advocates to release as many adults and youths from detention as possible ahead of a major virus outbreak in facilities.

In addition to implementing changes in facilities, such as suspending visitation and screening kids and staff who come into the buildings, juvenile justice officials have also focused on alternatives to detention, according to the new post. It’s a major component of how officials have brought down detention population.

During the pandemic, those efforts were increased to include:

  • Reviewing juvenile cases for those who might be appropriate for release, and bringing them to the attention of the detaining judges for approval of release to community-based services.
  • Seeking other alternatives to detention for juveniles who committed minor violations of their probation. For example, requesting the court to allow a juvenile to serve court-ordered detention time for such a violation following the coronavirus crisis.
  • Increasing the use of electronic monitoring and other alternatives to detention.
  • Requesting judges rescind, in appropriate cases, outstanding bench orders for secure custody on juveniles with complaints for non-violent offenses.

William Lassiter, deputy secretary for Juvenile Justice, has assigned a team to review all juvenile cases that are eligible for release and work with community-based partners to ensure effective transitions can occur in the youth detention centers (YDC’s), which are longer-term facilities. Prior to releasing any juvenile from a YDC, staff must ensure that the home and community environments are safe, supportive of the juvenile’s continued growth and able to meet the juvenile’s needs in the areas of education and mental health treatment, the post states.

Since March 1, 9 percent of the YDC population (16 juveniles) have been released back to their home or to a community-based step-down program. Read the full blog post here.

Officials from juvenile justice, along with adult corrections, will hold a media call at 3:30 p.m. to discuss further efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic. Follow NC Policy Watch for updates.

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