Fewer Youths in Juvenile Detention Amid Pandemic

According to Vincent Schiraldi, co-director of the Columbia Justice Lab at Columbia University, the pandemic has raised the kinds of questions about detention that always should have been asked. File photo: Pixabay.

NEW YORK — A recent multi-state survey of juvenile detention shows the COVID-19 pandemic is having a dramatic impact on the juvenile justice system.

The survey, conducted by The Annie E. Casey Foundation, shows the population of many detention centers across 30 states dropped by almost 25% over the month of March.

According to Vincent Schiraldi, co-director of the Columbia Justice Lab at Columbia University, the pandemic has raised the kinds of questions about detention that always should have been asked.

“Now we’re looking at it more like the emergency it is and saying, ‘Does this kid really need to be in? Does this kid need to be in as long as he or she is in?'” he states.



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Schiraldi says the number of youths in secure detention in New York City has been reduced by 36% since mid-March.

Nate Balis, director of The Casey Foundation’s Juvenile Justice Strategy Group, says the survey demonstrates that dramatic reductions in juvenile detention are possible, but it also raises more questions.

“Why is detention going down right now?” he raises. “Among who is detention going down right now, based on race, based on offense, all of that? This survey makes us want to know more about the answers to those questions.”

Balis says the juvenile justice system that emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic will be profoundly different from the one that was in place just a few weeks ago.

Schiraldi is cautiously optimistic that the changes that do take place will be positive.

“I do think that this crisis will advance the cause of decarceration and advance the cause of putting kids back home with services and supports,” he states.

The Casey Foundation plans to continue conducting its monthly survey of juvenile detention facilities for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis.

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