Legal Aid Justice Center demands Dept. of Juvenile Justice protect youth during COVID-19

Coronavirus

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The Legal Aid Justice Center says they want the Bon Air Juvenile Correctional Center to do a better job of protecting the health and safety of the more than 200 youth incarcerated.

Legal Aid Justice Center sent a letter to the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice saying they are failing to protect youth during the coronavirus outbreak.

The attorneys are worried about their client’s health, saying they are at risk of being seriously ill and even death. The concern comes on the heels of Bon Air Juvenile Correctional Center’s admission that 25 youths tested positive for COVID-19 and are receiving “round the clock medical attention.”

According to the letter from the Legal Aid Justice Center, youth have reported they don’t have adequate personal protective equipment, a lack of testing, and poor communication in regards to their diagnosis and next steps for recovery.

“The youth have reported that they are scared, they feel anxiety, they are confused about the situation and how the outbreak of COVID-19 will be mitigated,” said Rachael Dean, Legal Director, Legal Aid Justice Center.

The Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice says they are reviewing the letter from the Legal Aid Justice Center and said in part, “DJJ’s top priority is protecting the health and safety of our residents and staff. We will continue to work closely with VDH as we respond to this pandemic.”

The letter states DJJ is using excessive room confinement. Clients report they are kept in their room for 23 hours a day – posing a risk to their physical and mental health.

The Legal Aid Justice Center says this preventative measure violates the incarcerated youths legal rights.

“The best way to effectively mitigate COVID-19 in correctional settings is to reduce the population in the setting,” Dean said. “Most importantly, we are calling on the Department of Juvenile Justice to release as many youths as possible who can be safely released back to their families and their communities.”

Families with loved ones at Bon Air are worried, however, feeling left in the dark.

Rachael Dean, Legal Director, Legal Aid Justice Center

“That’s been a common theme here,” Dean said. “A lack of transparency about the situation and a lack of transparency about the specific steps that are being taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

The Legal Aid Justice Center is also asking the Department of Juvenile Justice to publish a specific pandemic response policy.

According to the letter, DJJ has one week to respond before legal action is taken.

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