Children Should Not Remain Incarcerated Simply Because of a Disability

April 13, 2020
Children Should Not Remain Incarcerated Simply Because of a Disability

For Immediate Release

Contact: David Card
202.408.9514 x122
[email protected]

WASHINGTON, DC – Children confined in tight spaces in juvenile detention facilities are exceptionally prone to spread communicable diseases. In addition, they are more vulnerable to contracting the more serious symptoms of COVID-19, due to an exceptionally high rate of disability among detainees.

As of April 13, 2020, we are aware of 55 children in juvenile facilities nationwide who have tested positive for COVID-19. In addition, 82 adults who work in juvenile facilities have tested positive — a rapid daily increase. These numbers are very high given that very few, if any, of the nation’s juvenile facilities actually test children or adult staff for COVID-19.

In efforts to reduce crowding and limit contagion, some states have begun to order the diversion of children from the juvenile justice system, and the release of children being held in certain circumstances. Communities that have received released children have not seen an increase in crime.

Protection and Advocacy (P&A) agencies, which make up the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN), are monitoring juvenile detention facilities and contacting state governments about release plans.

Many children with disabilities held in detention facilities are unable to successfully return home without community-based services and supports. Some vulnerable children are in state custody due to parental abuse or neglect, and require a non-parent placement in order to be released. Unfortunately, some jurisdictions are prioritizing the release of people who do not need help with placements and community supports, even though incarcerated children with disabilities are among the most vulnerable to infection.

In the absence of dedicated funding, the virus continues to spread rapidly in juvenile detention facilities. NDRN calls on the federal government to provide financial support in the fourth COVID-19 relief package to states to assist them in finding placements and community supports for vulnerable children in detention.

NDRN calls on state and local officials to ensure that children with disabilities are not left behind in crowded and unsanitary conditions while others are being released. Federal and state laws require nondiscrimination in such decision-making, and NDRN calls on local officials to comply with the law. No one who can be released should remain incarcerated simply because they have a disability.

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The National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) is the nonprofit membership organization for the federally mandated Protection and Advocacy (P&A) Systems and the Client Assistance Programs (CAP) for individuals with disabilities. Collectively, the Network is the largest provider of legally based advocacy services to people with disabilities in the United States.