Advocates are calling for the release of more juveniles from state custody after a Judicial Branch employee working at the Hartford Juvenile Detention Center tested positive for COVID-19.
Since Monday the Judicial Branch Court Support Services Division, which runs two juvenile detention centers in Bridgeport and Hartford, have released 14 juveniles as the threat of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus spreads throughout Connecticut.
The disease is easily contracted by person-to-person contact and it can live on surfaces for a few hours to days. COVID-19 has killed 21 people in Connecticut as of Thursday and thousands more worldwide. Gov. Ned Lamont has repeatedly enacted measures such as banning large gatherings and dine-in restaurants in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19 before hospitals are overwhelmed.
The state has released a total of 28 juveniles who were either sentenced and on probation or in pre-trial proceedings since Feb. 24, according to officials.
But advocates including the Juvenile Justice Alliance said that more should be released and that Judicial officials should be more transparent about what is happening at the detention centers and at residential treatment facilities throughout the state.
“It’s been difficult to get information,” said Christina Quaranta, deputy director of the Alliance. “What are they getting for education? What about mental health and things like disinfection? We’re trying to see if they will be more transparent.”
The Alliance wants to know if the juveniles are allowed to maintain frequent contact with their families by phone or video among other things. “If they aren’t going to be released right away, do they have access to items they need such as soap? We’re also asking for the release of medically vulnerable youth. We’d like weekly updates on that but they keep saying they are too busy to provide that,” Quaranta said.
The Court Support Services Division within the Judicial Branch took over the care of the juveniles on probation in July 2018 from the state Department of Children and Families which ran the Connecticut Juvenile Training School for youth required to be in a locked setting.
CSSD has since been required to find housing and educational programs for the juveniles in community settings. It hasn’t necessarily been easy. In January the division hosted an information session to get feedback from service providers on why no vendors were coming forward to run smaller CSSD juvenile treatment programs throughout the state which would put more kids on probation close to their home communities.
The 64 juveniles who remain at the Bridgeport and Hartford detention centers are being screened for symptoms and have contact with their families by phone and on a more limited basis, by video, said Gary Roberge, executive director of CSSD.
No visitors from the outside have been allowed in as the threat of the virus began taking hold in the state earlier this month. The juveniles have their own rooms which are in units with eight to 12 people in each unit, he said.
“Every seven days they must go back to court for a detention hearing,” Roberge said. “Anybody that we can move to the community and do it safely, we have.”
The juveniles under the purview of CSSD are either awaiting pre-trial proceedings for juvenile criminal matters, on probation for juvenile criminal matters or need some type of residential secure setting for treatment.
In addition to the 64 at the detention centers, another 38 are in residential treatment programs throughout the state and another 11 are in Department of Children and Families residential programs.
The residential programs run by state contractors are also following the same guidelines for monitoring the health of the juveniles and making sure that the kids remain six feet apart during activities, which is the distance recommended to avoid contracting the disease, said Catherine Foley Geib, deputy director of juvenile clinical and educational services.
“Staff has been directed that if they feel sick at all they should stay home and call their medical provider,” Foley Geib said. “They can have a 14-day administrative leave should they be sick.”
Probation officers who oversee juveniles in the community have also cut down on face-to-face meetings but will be available on a case by case basis if someone needs support, Roberge said.
“I’m very impressed with the way staff is handling this,” Foley Geib said. “We’re taking it day-by-day and every day it’s something different. But at this point we’re in a very good place.”