March 19, 2020
DENVER — Today a coalition of organizations sent a letter to Colorado juvenile justice officials outlining immediate actions to take to protect incarcerated children. As these youth are particularly vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are asking system actors to respond swiftly to recommendations put forth by public health experts — specifically calling for the immediate release of youth identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as vulnerable, as well as immediate steps to decrease the number of youth in custody in our state. The signatories of the letter include American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado; the Colorado Office of the State Public Defender; the Colorado Office of the Alternate Defense Counsel; the Colorado Juvenile Defender Center; the Colorado Office of the Child’s Representative; the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar; the Child Protection Ombudsman of Colorado; the Rocky Mountain Children’s Law Center; Padres & Jóvenes Unidos; the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition; Office of Respondent Parents’ Counsel; and the National Juvenile Defender Center.
The recommendations call on officials that oversee juvenile court processes, juvenile probation, and the incarceration of juveniles in detention facilities prior to trial and commitment facilities post-adjudication, to:
- Immediately and safely decrease the number of youth currently held in Division of Youth Services (DYS) facilities;
- Immediately and safely stop sending youth to these facilities, or dramatically decrease the number of new youth being sent to DYS facilities;
- Decrease in-person appearances in court and for probation appointments and activities;
- Provide video visitation for families and professionals to ensure youth in custody have support and access to necessary legal and other services;
- Create a written and public plan for how DYS will provide adequate care to youth in secure facilities in the event of an outbreak and increase medical resources, including staff and equipment, as necessary to execute this plan.
Public health experts recognize that there is a heightened risk of infection for people who are involved in the legal system, and reducing the population of incarcerated youth should be a part of the COVID-19 public health response. This need has been recognized across the country; youth justice advocates in 20 states sent letters to governors, juvenile justice system administrators, and other state and local officials today to call for the release of detained and incarcerated youth and the halting of new admissions to protect youth from the spread of COVID-19.
With these actions, Colorado officials can create a culture in which transparency, safety, and the health of all people is the paramount concern.