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To: DJS Secretary Sam Abed

COVID-19 is A Threat to Our Youth - Tell Maryland to #BringOurKidsHome

1. Immediately coordinate with the Courts for the release of the hundreds of youth who are currently being held in Maryland juvenile jails and youth prisons. The vast majority of children currently being held in detention centers and long-term facilities are there for non-violent crimes, misdemeanors, or technical violations of probation. DJS can safely return these young people to their homes with community based-supports. Bringing our kids home will alleviate potential exposure to Covid-19.

2. Halt all new admissions to juvenile jails and youth prisons to mitigate harm from Covid-19 pandemic.

3. DJS must establish and share publicly a Covid-19 safety plan for all youth who remain in facilities to ensure they have proper access to cleaning and sanitation supplies as well as resources, support, and daily video contact with loved ones.

Why is this important?

Maryland incarcerates hundreds of children across seven youth jails centers and six state-run youth prisons. Like adult jails and prisons, juvenile facilities are inherently high-risk environments where the disease can spread quickly. Children are housed closely together in units or dormitory-style housing, precisely the kind of conditions that have led to the closure of universities all over the country. Even in well-run facilities, the social distancing recommended by the CDC is simply impossible. In such a setting, most of what we can do to protect against the spread of the virus is detrimental to children’s well-being.

DJS stopped allowing visitors weeks ago, meaning lawyers can’t visit their clients and families can’t visit their children. School and other programming is cancelled. The use of solitary confinement, which is deeply traumatizing for a child and yet, DJS is already using increased isolation in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19. All of these factors not only put a child’s emotional health at risk, they also jeopardize their long-term rehabilitation.

Research by health care experts shows that incarcerated populations are most at-risk during a public health crisis. COVID-19 spread quickly in enclosed spaces such as cruise ships and nursing homes and it will spread just as quickly in detention centers, prisons, and jails. Contagious viruses such as COVID-19 spread much faster in detention centers and prisons as incarcerated youth are in close quarters and sometimes in unsanitary conditions. Behind bars, youth are not able to participate in proactive measures to keep themselves safe, such as social distancing, frequently washing hands, or staying in sanitized spaces. Infection control is a challenge in these situations as incarcerated youth are often in large congregate and communal settings. Even if youth are in individual cells, ventilation is often inadequate.

Further, youth jails and prisons are unlikely equipped to meet the medical needs of youth if a COVID-19 outbreak inside juvenile detention or correctional facility should occur. Youth will not have many options to stay away from other youth if they become ill and there are limited infirmary beds. If staff become ill, it will be difficult to provide care and support to youth and if lockdowns are utilized, it will only intensify virus infection rates. The J.S. Weese Carter Center was already forced to close when a vendor could no longer service the facility.

To stave off a public health emergency in our juvenile jails and prisons, we must immediately and dramatically reduce the number of children who are incarcerated. For those who remain in custody, we must do all we can to protect their health, safety, and constitutional rights. To that end, we call on state and local officials to take swift action.

To protect our young people, those who work in these facilities, and the broader community, we must immediately reduce the number of young people in custody as quickly as possible.

We are all feeling fear and uncertainty about the future. Imagine how that terror is magnified for families separated from their children by prison bars. Our youth are the future of our nation and, recognizing that the majority of young people in detention and correctional facilities across Maryland are removed from their communities for non-violent charges and pose no threat to community safety, it is unacceptable to allow children to be separated from their families during this global crisis.

No one is sure when this crisis will end. But we know that most kids grow out of delinquent behavior without any system involvement. It's time for Maryland to give young people a chance and #BringOurKidsHome.

Maryland, USA

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2020-04-07 10:42:21 -0700

We reached 500 signatures. Thank you for your support.

Today we can confirm that two DJS staff members - one at the Lower Eastern Shore Children's Center and one at Baltimore City Juvenile Justice Center - have tested postive for COVID-19. The outbreak is inside DJS facilities and it makes the need to #BringOurKidsHome even more urgent.

Please share the petition widely and call your elected officials to ask them to support our demands.

2020-04-07 07:26:45 -0700

500 signatures reached

2020-04-03 12:01:47 -0700

100 signatures reached

2020-04-03 11:04:49 -0700

50 signatures reached

2020-04-03 11:04:05 -0700

To protect our young clients, defenders throughout Maryland filed an application for
extraordinary relief in the Maryland Court of Appeals today.

“It is not a question of if, but when COVID-19 will arrive in Maryland’s juvenile jails...In crowded, congregate facilities it is impossible for young people to maintain the recommended distance or take the necessary steps to sanitize the surfaces they encounter. Release is the only effective means of protecting young people from contracting and transmitting COVID-19. In fact, confining a large number of people to an enclosed area – like the Princess cruise ship or Life Care nursing home outbreaks demonstrate – creates the ideal breeding ground for the pandemic.”

Read the the Request here along with four harrowing accounts from young people who are afraid for their safety behind bars:

2020-04-03 10:17:35 -0700

25 signatures reached

2020-04-03 09:20:26 -0700

10 signatures reached