COVID-19 presents particularly urgent challenges and potentially devastating consequences for YSRP’s client-partners in confinement across Pennsylvania. Experts have warned that jails and detention centers, like other congregate settings, are “petri dishes” for the harmful, and potentially fatal, virus. This is a grim reality both for people who are incarcerated, and for people who work in jails, prisons, detention centers, residential facilities and secure placements, and the communities they return home to at the end of their shifts.
Our youth client-partners, and all children who are incarcerated, cannot socially distance from one another; do not have adequate protective equipment or disinfecting products; and are not getting the care or information they need to keep themselves safe. Solitary confinement, already known to be harmful for young people, is being used as a quarantine measure for days and weeks at a time. Access to vital and basic necessities – soap, showers and telephone calls to family and support networks – has been disturbingly reduced. Access to education – including the completion of GEDs and high school diplomas, a condition of release for many young people – is minimal at best. Some youth are being held pre-trial with no viable court date in sight. Immediate attempts to bring youth home are subject to “justice by geography,” rather than a coordinated, supportive response.
Young people and former Juvenile Lifers who are currently navigating reentry amid mandatory stay-at-home orders are deeply resilient, and their strength, wisdom and experience shines through as they endure these orders, care for loved ones and, in some cases, work essential jobs. Our client-partners are facing incredibly uncertain futures with grace, as they also lift up their families and community, and mourn the loss of loved ones who have succumbed to the virus.