As coronavirus cases continue to rise in prisons and detention centers nationwide, a second outbreak has not been mitigated at California Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) facilities, where countless numbers of young people have tested positive for Covid-19.
As of January 4, the department reported that 17 young incarcerated people are currently testing positive. In total, at least 119 jailed youths out of 750 youth detained by the state have tested positive for the virus since June. Advocates suspect the real numbers are even higher, saying there were 40 new cases in December alone, according to the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, a nonprofit that provides assistance and policy analysis to reduce incarceration.
The ministry did not make up-to-date information available. It has also failed to adopt comprehensive security measures, according to Renee Menart, communications and policy analyst at the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, which leaves parents of incarcerated children in the dark and forces imprisoned children to fight. alone against infection.
It is also not known how many of those who contracted the virus have made a full recovery and what medical care is being provided.
“We have seen a real reluctance to enter greater precautions and stricter guidelines,” Menart said, noting that information about infection and recovery rates changes frequently on the agency’s website without an explanation.
People in prison are particularly vulnerable to the impact of the virus, with reports that one in five incarcerated Americans have contracted coronavirus and that prisons have high death rates. Israel Villa, deputy director of the California Alliance for Youth and Community Justice (CAYCJ), said the centers have the same physical layout as state prisons, with young people housed in multi-person units. But while most state and local courts have decided to release adults from jails and jails, incarcerated youth are often the last to be considered for early release.
“I got a call from a mother whose son is at DJJ. Apparently one child on the unit was sick, so they tested everyone on the unit, and eight of them came back positive, ”Villa said. He said that mother’s son had been forced to quarantine in solitary confinement with no blankets or access to food. The imprisoned son said he had received no medical treatment.
In March, the juvenile justice department suspended visits from family and friends, further reducing young people’s already limited contact with loved ones. Now, Villa said the agency does not routinely notify parents when their children are infected. The mother Villa spoke to only heard of her son’s infection after being forced into quarantine. “She hadn’t spoken to her son for several weeks,” Villa said. “So you can only imagine how the parents feel.”
“It is of great concern that family members are placed in an advocacy role,” Menart said. “If family members are limited [to] only learning directly from their child in the institutions, there is so much information that gets lost.
While young people are less exposed to the severe effects of Covid, some of them, the vast majority of whom are black and Latin American, suffer from underlying health conditions like asthma that can increase in severity and impact of infection. Chronic health issues, driven in part by systemic disinvestment in communities of color, are contributing to rising infection and death rates for Latino and black patients.
This is the second outbreak in California youth detention facilities, the first of which occurred during the summer months. Both outbreaks, as with everything that happens inside prisons and detention centers, are the result of the virus coming in from outside, often by prison staff and officers.
A former DJJ employee, who has remained anonymous due to the sensitive nature of the matter, confirmed that many staff members do not wear masks or other personal protective equipment, and former colleagues have been informed that if they did not have a fever within 10 days of presenting symptoms that they could return to work.
DJJ categorically denies these allegations. Mike Sicilia, the assistant press secretary for juvenile justice in the California Department of Corrections, told the Guardian that staff are required to wear masks around children, that young people who have tested positive are medically isolated for 10 days and those with symptoms are treated. At the infirmary.
“DJJ’s top priority is the safety and well-being of young people and staff,” said Sicilia.
In January last year, before the start of the pandemic, Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom approved plans to shut down facilities, supplanting the state system with more reliance on local and county jails. The closures will be phased and full dismantling will likely take years.
The former anonymous employee suggested that administrators’ response to the virus was a reaction to plans to shut down the department. “We don’t know if we’re going to stay open and we don’t know if we’re going to close, but then we’re like, ‘Oh, let’s keep our numbers.’ Let’s keep our money, who are our customers, our young people.