JJAI Expresses Concern for the Health Conditions and Capacity of Youth Detention Centers During the COVID-19 Outbreak

*Specific communication for Mexico was released and is available in Spanish, click here for more info

Juvenile Justice Advocates International’s (JJAI) vision is that children are only detained as a last resort and for the shortest period of time possible. JJAI works towards this by collaborating and providing technical assistance to youth justice operators to implement internationally recognized best practices. During the COVID 19 pandemic, JJAI would like to communicate the following concerns:

  1. The spread of COVID 19 inside of youth detention facilities.
  2. The continued respect for youth’s human rights.
  3. The risk to the mental health of detained youth.

Based on these concerns, JJAI asks youth justice systems and youth detention facilities to take the following actions:

    • Elaborate a plan to keep the general population, visitors and staff informed.
    • Raise awareness between visitors and staff about preventative measures.
    • Implement recommended preventative measures – have soap and disinfectant gel available in entrances, cells/dormitories, and administrative areas, physical distancing, and responses to suspected COVID-19 cases.
  • Ensure that youth are not housed in overcrowded facilities or areas of facilities.
  • Implement recommendations from authorities about health tests to people in contact with the youth – such as staff and visitors.
  • Ongoing health screenings of youth to identify those at-risk or those with underlying respiratory conditions that require specialized/off-site care.
  • Promote a more rigorous routine of the youth’s personal hygiene and of the cleanliness of the facilities.
  • If limiting family visits:
    • Take all sanitary precautionary measures as recommended by health authorities.
    • Consider reducing the overall number of family members that can visit rather than ending family visits entirely if possible.
    • Limit visitation by vulnerable populations such as elderly and children under 12.
    • Consider allowing family visits without physical contact.
  • If suspending family visits:
    • Allow free telephone calls daily of at least 20 minutes per youth.
    • Allow calls through cell phones in facilities where there are no established telephone lines for the youth.
    • Allow video calls if possible.
    • Provide all materials necessary to write letters or emails, as well as electronic devices required to maintain contact with their family members. As an example, allow photos to be taken of the youth and to send said photos through WhatsApp or other secure messaging services to their families. 
    • Implement a transparency mechanism that shares the daily incident report with the corresponding authorities such as Child Protection or Human Rights Ombudsman.
    • In case of not having a daily report of incidents, we suggest the implementation of said reports and the accompanying transparency.
    • Allow a weekly visit from the Human Rights Ombudsman which also includes a review of all preventative measures recommended to avoid contamination and ensure that lock-downs and preventative measures are not endangering youth.
    • In case of limiting the access to recreational activities, workshop, vocational training due to restricting access by volunteers, teachers, technical staff, etcetera consider implementing the following activities in accordance with COVID-19 preventative measures:
      • Increase the time of sports activities.
      • Increase time allotted in libraries and leisure areas for board games.
      • Increase time allotted for access to appropriate TV programs and movies.
      • Allow books in dormitories.
      • Allow notebooks, pens and/or pencils inside cells and other areas with supervision.
      • Allow board games inside cells and other areas with supervision.
    • Be diligent in detecting signs of depression and suicidal ideation.
    • Maintain weekly contact with families to keep them informed and to listen to their comments, doubts, and concerns.
    • Create a forum to communicate to the youth all preventative measures and all the changes in normal procedures in the detention center to keep them informed and listen to their comments, doubts, and concerns, always respecting their right to be heard. Make use of this space to explain to the youth what the current events are without unnecessarily alarming them, but to keep them fully aware of the situation.

Specific recommendations for Juvenile Courts, Prosecutors and Detention Administrators:

  • Suspend the implementation of custodial measures.
  • Provisional pretrial release for the following:
    • Youth with any medical conditions.
    • Pregnant youth.
    • Youth who have spent 3 months or longer in pretrial detention.
    • Youth charged with petty offenses, non-violent offenses or misdemeanors.
    • Switch to house arrest/confinement if the case allows it.
  • Provide post-trial conditional release to the following:
    • Youth with any medical conditions.
    • Pregnant Youth.
    • Youth with under partial-deprivation of liberty sentences – such as evening or weekend lock-up. 
    • Youth with under 6 months of the served time of their custodial sentence.
    • Postpone or modify sentences utilizing non-custodial precautionary measures.

We encourage all detention centers to reach out to us in case of requiring technical assistance to elaborate on these protocols of transparency. Likewise, we encourage all detention centers which collaborate directly with our staff to inform us of any material needs this time such as access to cell phones for family contact or board games and other recreational activities. Please contact us through: info@jjadvocates.org. You can also follow the most recent updates on our Twitter account: @jji_esp or Facebook account: facebook.com/jjimexico/ and facebook.com/juvenilejusticeadvocates/ 

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