Legal Aid Society files lawsuit to release juveniles from center

Horizon Juvenile Center
Schneps Media Jason Cohen

A lawsuit was filed against the city last week demanding juveniles in two detention centers be released due to the coronavirus.

The suit, which was officially filed March 26, wants youths being held at the Horizon Juvenile Center, 560 Brook Ave. and Crossroads Juvenile Center, 17 Bristol St., Brooklyn, to be sent home temporarily so there is less a chance of COVID-19 spreading.

According to the Legal Aid Society, these facilities house youth in close settings, with shared dining rooms, common recreational areas, communal bathrooms and showers and at some sites, shared bedrooms.

On March 20, three ACS staffers tested positive for the coronavirus, but no juveniles were released.

“Because jails, prisons, and other​​ detention centers are not designed to manage infectious disease, we anticipate COVID-19 to spread rapidly and infect many more individuals in the coming days,”​said Dawne Mitchell, attorney-in-charge of the Juvenile Defense Practice at The Legal Aid Society.​ “Our young clients are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 and can safely be managed at home with their families.”

On March 20, Youth Corrections Leaders for Justice (“YCLJ”), a group comprised of youth corrections officials across the country, issued a joint statement signed by 30 current and former youth correctional administrators calling for the immediate release of youths in juvenile detention facilities to protect them from COVID-19.

“As a nation, we have decided that it is not safe for our children to be in school together,” their statement said. “That means it is certainly not safe for them to live in congregate care facilities with hundreds of other youth, 24/7. . . Those of us who have run these places know that the idea of social distancing is preposterous in such an environment and introducing the virus to locked facility would be devastating.”

An ACS spokesman said the facilities are prepared.

Horizon houses 22 youths and Crossroads 62. There are 106 beds at each site. ACS has instituted a number of measures:

  • Limiting the number of visitors
  • Implementing tele-visiting/video conferencing so youth at Horizon and Crossroads can continue to speak with their families and lawyers.
  • Youths are participating in DOE’s distance learning, rather than in-person classroom instruction.
  • It is following the DOHMH guidance for congregate care settings (working to prevent the introduction of respiratory pathogens into the facilities, conducting routine cleanings etc) and DOHMH guidance for non-hospital isolations.
  • Staff is available around the clock to clean and sanitize all surfaces on a regular schedule.
  • Current guidance from DOHMH and the CDC has been provided to all staff and youth.
  • Youth are continuously reminded that if they do not feel well, they should make a sick call so they can be taken to medical.
  • If a youth exhibits symptoms consistent with COVID-19, s/he immediately goes to the Special Housing Unit (SHU) until being transported to the hospital for testing, and will return to the SHU pending results of that testing. We also have a protocol for isolating youth who test positive for COVID-19, while preserving the health and safety of our entire resident youth population.

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