Incarcerated juveniles around the nation are feeling the psychological pressures of being exposed to harsh solitary confinement conditions in the name of “medical isolation,” “soft quarantines” or behavioral issues due to the COVID-19 pandemic and outbreaks, according to a report by The Marshall Project.
Leaving juveniles locked inside their cells without access to schools, recreation or rehabilitative programs and detached from family visits, kids are feeling alone and sinking into boredom, said a therapist in a Maryland youth facility, according to the May 12, 2020 report.
“It is hard to imagine a more vulnerable population… in the face of this pandemic,” Craig W. Haney wrote in a court statement in March 2020. Haney is a social psychologist and an expert on the psychology of confinement at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
Abandonment issues can resurface during this time because most youth in the justice system have endured childhood trauma, according to the report.
One mother whose son was housed at the Bon Air Juvenile Correctional Center in Richmond, Virginia, said her son was going back to his negative mindset and wrote her a suicidal letter.
It took another month before she was able to speak to him on the phone.
“The call cut off before I could even say I love you,” she said, according to the report.
Children at the facility were said to be sitting alone in their cells worrying about the deadly virus and its effects on their family members and teachers, added an-other parent, who had a child at the same facility.
Prior to the outbreak, the Bon Air facility held a quilt-ing class and volunteers taught Russian literature, said the report.
The conditions around juvenile facilities are starting to feel more like adult prison-style isolation, according to many incarcerated teens, advocates and correctional officers in more than a dozen states, said the report.
There are more than 44, 000 youth incarcerated in federal and state juvenile detention centers, noted the report. Approximately 70 percent of youth are incarcerated for nonviolent offenses, reported the Sentencing Project. Many are pre-trial detainees and have yet to be convicted of any crime, the report added.
In Louisiana, some juvenile facilities were being re-staffed by probation officers, who are trained in adult police tactics, and some teens are being subdued with force. The teens that fight or attempt to escape are placed in isolation cells that have not been active for years, according to the report.
During unordinary circumstances such as this, it is customary to utilize all assets within the department to continue to maintain a safe and secure environment for our staff and youth,” said Beth Touchet-Morgan, spokesperson for Louisiana Office of Juvenile Justice, on the use of the cells.
The response to canceling schools and family visits within juvenile facilities due to COVID-19 has caused many youths to feel paranoid, lonely and bored, the report stated.
“I just take it as they don’t care about us for real,” a Baltimore teen told The Marshall Project.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “every day that an adolescent spends in adult prison-style isolation, without learning new skills and receiving mental-health treatment, is itself a health emergency,” quoted the report.
Youths have been locked in isolation cells 23 hours a day. Their only interactions are with correctional offi-cers, or they have to shout to their friends under the cell door, said the report. Nation-ally, SWAT teams and pepper spray has been used on the frustrated youth because they are getting into fights and brawls.
Some juvenile detention agencies and judges across the country have stepped in to reduce the youth prison population. Only two governors (Michigan and Colorado) have ordered large-scale releases of juveniles from jail to combat the spread of COV-ID-19. Only 10 states have reduced its juvenile population at the state level, according to the Youth First Initiative, an advocacy group, notes the report.
“Never before in our judicial system have we asked the question: Will jail do more harm than good?” said Jenny Egan, chief attorney of the juvenile division of the Maryland Office of the Public Defender. “Can the rehabilitative purpose of juveniles court even still happen in that timeframe?
Stress, frustration and social distancing have become a form of solitary confinement for juveniles in jails. School was a form of freedom inside the facilities. They were able to come out of their cells and participated with other students, noted the report. Worksheets, video games and video lessons have be-come the substitute for recreation and learning for the incarcerated youth.
Children’s rights advocates are uncertain how many children have been placed in isolation for medical reasons or otherwise, because they are not given access to jails during the pandemic. The United Nations consider it a human-rights violation to isolate children. Studies shows it increases suicide and future mortality rates, said the report.
“Does anyone believe that rehabilitation can occur in a locked facility during a pandemic?” asked Nate Balis, director of the Juvenile Justice Strategy Group at the Annie E. Casey Foundation. “What are we actually doing still holding children in facilities?”