Need to know more about coronavirus in New York? Sign up for our daily morning newsletter.
Mayor Bill de Blasio offered some news during his daily coronavirus briefing Sunday about young people held in city juvenile detention facilities where the bug has hit three teens and 10 staffers so far.
“More than half of those who had been detained over the last two weeks have been released,” he announced.
De Blasio declared it “a significant reduction in our juvenile detainee population,” with “a 67% reduction in one category, 53% reduction in another category.”
Yet a followup inquiry by THE CITY determined that the mayor’s statements applied only to “juvenile delinquents” — a specific class of children held while awaiting Family Court hearings on mostly non-violent, non-felony crimes.
Figures provided by the city Administration for Children’s Services show the population of the city’s two secure youth facilities hit by the virus, Crossroads Juvenile Center and Horizon Juvenile Center, has dropped by just 20% in the last two weeks.
As of Monday, 74 young people remained in the two lockups. Nearly two dozen in secure and nonsecure detention facilities have joined a Legal Aid lawsuit against ACS Commissioner David Hansell, demanding their release for their own safety.
So far, 714 minors in New York City have been hospitalized with coronavirus-related conditions.
The City Council member leading oversight on juvenile justice said more needed to be done, particularly for youth most at risk of developing serious illness.
“We want all the kids who do not really need to be in juvenile detention, who are detained at this time of crisis to be released,” Councilmember Rory Lancman (D-Queens), chair of the Committee on the Justice System, told THE CITY. “In particular, any kid who has a health care vulnerability to COVID-19.”
A spokesperson for de Blasio said the health of incarcerated children is a “top priority.”
“We are constantly working on what might be best for their individual conditions,” said the spokesperson, Jose Bayona.
On Tuesday, de Blasio said more than 900 adults had been released from Rikers Island and other jails by the city Department of Correction, following consultations with district attorneys and state parole officials.
For those in the juvenile delinquent category, the city Law Department reviews every case, Bayona said. If officials determine a youth could be freed “without posing a safety risk to the community,” the Law Department will work with the Department of Probation and the young person’s attorney to propose a release plan to a Family Court judge.
In other cases, he said, the Law Department and judges fast-track court hearings to resolve cases and get the youths placed in a facility to serve any sentences.
’Stress and Anxiety’
City Hall has not divulged how many of the 19 juvenile delinquents who left non-secure detention facilities or the dozen sprung from Crossroads and Horizon have been released from custody entirely and reunited with their families.
Family members have started a petition asking for the teens’ release from “infected” Horizon and Crossroads. Appealing to de Blasio and others for their freedom, the request has now gained over 300 signatures.
“My lil cousin needs to be home with his loved ones,” said one signer. “During this time the stress and anxiety of not knowing can affect us all.”
Lancman warned that release is not enough, and that youth leaving detention must be sent to safe situations.
“What are you releasing them to? A lot of people being released have health issues,” Lancman told THE CITY.
There’s a need, he said, to have “some kind of discharge plan and someplace and setting for them to go where they’re not going to be at risk to themselves or to or to others.”
Help THE CITY cover the coronavirus crisis: What are your questions, concerns and experiences? Tell us here.
Want to republish this story? See our republication guidelines.
SUPPORT THE CITY
You just finished reading another story from THE CITY.
We need your help to make THE CITY all it can be.
Please consider joining us as a member today.