YSRP staff gathered on February 1, 2023, to celebrate freedom and commemorate the 7th anniversary of the landmark Montgomery v. Louisiana US Supreme Court decision with former Juvenile Lifers, advocates, and movement leaders.
COVID-19: YSRP Responds to the Crisis
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.
This unprecedented moment has called for unprecedented action from YSRP.
We are acting swiftly to respond to the COVID-19 crisis. YSRP has:
- Filed an emergency lawsuit, with Juvenile Law Center & DLA Piper, seeking the immediate release of virtually all children in carceral settings in Pennsylvania. The PA Supreme Court denied our petition, but was spurred to issue helpful guidance to all counties across the Commonwealth to ensure that COVID-19 exposure risk is taken into account in juvenile court cases. We are seeking additional emergency legal remedies to bring youth home, because urgent and coordinated action is needed to ensure that young people can be safely returned home with the supports they need.
- Coverage of our suit has appeared in The Inquirer, KYW Newsradio, The Morning Call, The Chronicle of Social Change, Law360, The New York Times, and, recently, The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Editorial Board cited our suit in calling for release of youth in confinement.
- Disbursed more than $35,000 in emergency relief funds to our client-partners, and to Juvenile Lifers who were resentenced in Philadelphia. With the extraordinary generosity of one funder, we have been fortunate to disburse direct cash support to more than 70 of our youth and Juvenile Lifer client-partners, and to 60 former Juvenile Lifers who were resentenced in Philadelphia County. For client-partners who are home, funds are supporting payment for essentials like rent, groceries and bills. For client-partners who are currently in jail or prison, we are putting money in commissary accounts to help pay for essentials like soap, cleaning products and phone calls. Amid court closures and without our usual, regular prison, jail and placement visits, we remain in close contact with our client-partners to understand their most critical needs as we look to act quickly to support them now.
- Continued to convene Intergenerational Healing Circles (IGHCs). YSRP’s Reentry Team is committed to continuing Intergenerational Healing Circles for our youth and former Juvenile Lifer client-partners, which are facilitated group sessions that explore issues of trauma, incarceration, healing and growth, during this time of crisis. The need to build community and connection, albeit virtually, is as important now as ever before. We have been proud to offer several sessions, and will continue to do so, as a space for support and healing during this very challenging time.
- Called on city and state leaders to act to decarcerate and minimize risk and harm. As part of our coordinated advocacy strategy, and in partnership with Juvenile Law Center, the Defender Association and the Youth Art & Self-empowerment Project, we spearheaded a demand letter to Mayor Kenney, Philadelphia City Council and Judges of the First Judicial District to immediately release children from Philadelphia’s jails and juvenile detention center. We were joined by 33 other partner organizations in this effort. This call for emergency action builds on our longer-term efforts to remove all children from adult jails and prisons in Philadelphia and beyond.
COVID-19 brings into stark relief the urgent needs we have been calling for since YSRP was launched six years ago: to bring home young people from adult prisons and jails, and to end the practice of sending them there in the first place. Adult jails and prisons are dangerous places; are harmful for children; and are harmful for our communities. People, both children and adults, returning home from jails and prisons, deserve to live full lives with dignity.