Senate Dems press DOJ over coronavirus safety precautions in juvenile detention centers

Thirteen Democratic senators, led by Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), on Tuesday, wrote a letter asking the Justice Department for details on what precautions are being taken against the coronavirus in juvenile detention centers.

The senators, in a letter to the DOJ’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, asked for details on what measures the office has taken to ensure detention conditions are safe during the pandemic.

“COVID-19 thrives in juvenile detention facilities, where communal living arrangements make it difficult or impossible to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommended public health measures such as maintaining social distance, self-isolating, and using personal protective equipment,” they wrote.

The senators also highlighted the potential for these outbreaks to exacerbate the well-documented racial disparities in deaths from the virus. “Because the majority of youth in detention are black or Hispanic, the spread of COVID-19 within juvenile detention may further perpetuate the disparate impact of the virus along racial and ethnic lines,” they wrote.

The letter also requests data, disaggregated by race, ethnicity and gender, for incarcerated juveniles’ receipt of coronavirus tests, positive and negative results, use of quarantine and medical isolation, hospitalizations, intensive care admissions and fatalities.

They also requested data on the number of early releases to community placement, step-down programs or home confinement between March and May 2020.

In addition to Wyden and Harris, the letter was signed by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.)

At least 488 detainees and 580 staff in juvenile detention facilities have tested positive for the virus, according to data compiled by the Sentencing Project based on official data released by state and local officials.