The Omicron variant led to a predictable increase in COVID cases among children and teens in prisons. In response to these spikes juvenile facilities have reduced educational and recreational activities. They also suspended in-person visitoration. This has further isolated incarcerated teens and increased costs for anxious parents who desperately want to look after their children.
Public outrage over pandemic-exacerbated situations like these is fueling efforts in some states to stop young people being held in decades-old jails that are known to be unsafe. do far more harm than goodIn the first instance.
“You have a deadly virus on top of an already toxic environment — a youth prison,” said Liz Ryan, president of Youth First Initiative, a group that campaigns to end youth incarceration, in an interview. “Even prior to the pandemic, we called into question why policy makers continue to use these kinds of prisons when the number of youths incarcerated in them continues to go down.”
California’s COVID cases are high among youth in prison. tripledIn January. Cases dropped in the following weeks, but only after the state suspended “intake” of new young prisoners. In-person visits were also permitted suspendedParents and advocates who believe isolation has caused their children distress, as well as advocates. well-documented impactsOn stress levels and emotional wellbeing for incarcerated young people are often already strugglingThey are more likely to stay in good mental health and to return to prison less if they have strong relationships.
California will be California in 2021 capped intrastate phone rates for all prisoners at 7 cents per minute — but advocates pushed to make all calls free. California Division of Juvenile Justice says the adolescents in its custody are now receiving “increased free phone calls” and can request video chats, but families down in Louisiana are not so fortunate. In-person visits in Louisiana’s youth jails and prisons are also suspendedDue to COVID outbreaks in January, children can only make phone call if their parents have money in their commissary accounts. According to the southern Louisiana newspaper Houma Today.
Toni Giarrusso is the mother of two sons who are in Louisiana prisons. She estimates that she has spent approximately $6,000 to speak with them regularly on the phone. Other parents pay out of their own pockets for expensive video calls. This privilege can be revoked if the punishment is not applied. Giarrusso stated that going without visitation is difficult for her and her sons. One of her sons has even considered suicide.
“Connor, because they wouldn’t give him visitation, tried to kill himself or was talking about killing himself, which is horrible,” Giarrusso told the Monroe News-Star Southern Louisiana.
Data on COVID is becoming less common in prisonsThere are many differences between states and facilities when it comes to policies and conditions for youth lockups. For example, some youth prisons and pre-trial “detention halls” (jails) allow free phone calls and video visits, while others gouge families under contracts with profit-hungry private telecom companies that can charge between 11 and 91 cents per minute, according to federal data from Hannah Benton Eidsath, a directing attorney at the National Center for Youth and Law.
These rates do not include any additional fees imposed by individual facilities. Eidsath however stated that parents are consistent in stating that they will call their children no matter what cost, even if it means missing rent payments and forgoing medical bills.
“This is a hidden and additional cost that burdens families. Instead, everyone should do all they can to help these children connect with their families and their communities and to support them in leaving these facilities as soon possible.” Eidsath said in an interview.
We know that youth incarceration rates have dropped by approximately 24 percentDuring the 2020 nationwide lockdowns accelerating a trendThis began in 1995, when youth confinement rates were at their lowest. 70 percent higherAccording to the Annie E. Casey Foundation in 2019, it will be higher than in 2019.
Ryan said that while some states were willing to release incarcerated youth in order to make room for social diversion early in the pandemics, Ryan said that the reduction in incarceration rates was largely due the decision of policy makers and courts not to incarcerate more children and to adopt other alternatives.
“Less kids were being locked up, but kids who were already locked up were not being released,” Ryan told Truthout. “Even prior to the pandemic, we knew that youth prisons are harmful to kids. The environment is toxic, the likelihood that a young person is going to end up in adult criminal legal system is seriously increased, there’s abusive conditions and guards that are never held accountable, and you also have pretty limited education.”
There are massive racial disparities in youth incarceration — Black youth in California are nine times more likely to be incarcerated than white youth, for example — and Ryan said the youth who remain incarcerated are often Black and Brown.
“So, we’re not sending as many white kids to these places, and that’s not because white kids commit less crimes than Black and Brown kids do … they are just treated differently by the juvenile justice system,” Ryan said.
The costs of keeping in touch with youth prisoners add to the fines and fees associated incarceration as well as the criminal legal system. This is disproportionately costly. fall on lower-incomeAdvocates say that families are important. A majority of states allow juvenile courts to charge families at minimum one type or fee. Last year, a coalition representing groups launched a nationwide campaign. abolish the legal debtsfor incarcerated youths, and their families.
Ryan said it’s not just legal debts that need to be abolished — youth prisons themselves should be abolished as well. There are currently over 2,000 youth prisons nationwide. 80 youth prisonsThey are more than 100 year old and were built to resemble adult prisons, following a 19th century model. Youth are also held in pre-trial detention centers in their localities and in various state facilities. These facilities, while not called prisons or jails, operate in the same way as jails. solitary confinementAnd physical abuseFueling and preparing for a silent mental health crisis.
Ryan told TruthoutThe pandemic’s first year saw a decrease in youth incarceration. This shows how arbitrary, and unnecessary, the decisions to incarcerate these young people in the first instance. Ryan stated that alternatives to incarceration have already been proven to work and that advocates all across the country are now pushing for the closure of expensive youth prisons as well as investments in community-based education, behavioral services, and other related programs.
“You have a whole variety of factors that are compounded during this pandemic that is making youth incarceration worse, and on top of that, the indifference of public officials to this has been eye-opening,” Ryan said. “It requires a fraction of spending to serve kids in the community, and they would be better off, so why aren’t we doing that? Where is the political will to make that change?”