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NEWS RELEASE: Advocates Renew Call to Protect Youth in Custody

NEWS RELEASE 

Advocates Renew Call to Protect Youth in Custody 

For Immediate Release 

April 3, 2020 1 P.M. CDT 

LINCOLN, Neb. – Friday, following news yesterday that a YRTC-Kearney staff member tested positive for COVID-19, Nebraska advocacy organizations and individuals sent a second cosigned letter to Nebraska Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Heavican and Court Administrator Corey Steele and NDHHS CEO Dannette Smith, urging action to protect youth in these facilities and youth in congregate care group homes at similar risk.  

Public health experts have warned that people who are in enclosed spaces are uniquely vulnerable to the outbreak. Since Nebraska advocacy organizations sent their first letter to state officials on March 18th, the number of positive COVID-19 cases in Nebraska is nearly 10 times higher, with a reported 255 positive cases and 6 deaths. In addition to the staff member at the YRTC in Kearney testing positive, there has also been a deputy Douglas County Attorney who tested positive for the virus, prompting the closure of the Douglas County Courthouse. The virus is spreading exponentially, and it is a present danger to our youth and staff, particularly those with underlying medical issues.

In line with steps taken by officials in many other states, today’s letters ask the Nebraska Supreme Court, Court Administration, and the Department to craft and share emergency plans addressing COVID-19 in the juvenile justice system.  

Recommendations include:   

  • Instructing judges and probation officers to immediately halt new admissions to juvenile detention and correctional facilities, including YRTCs; 
  • Prioritizing and facilitating the removal of youth from these facilities whenever feasible;  
  • Ensuring communication to youth on prevention, access to medical care, and access to community-based support; 
  • Creating transitional plans for youth released from custody and congregate care to ensure continued access to housing, care and basic needs;  
  • Reforming probation requirements to eliminate in-person meetings as much as possible and allow youth to travel to access medical care;
  • Collaborating on swift discharge proceedings for youth currently committed to YRTC; and
  • Ensuring any quarantine of youth in YRTC does not resemble solitary confinement.   

“Nebraska has both a legal and moral obligation to protect the health and safety of youth in our state’s care,” said Juliet Summers, policy coordinator at Voices for Children in Nebraska. “We are very concerned about what the recent diagnosis of a staff member at YRTC-Kearney means for youth in custody and we implore our public officials to take immediate and decisive action to protect these young people and the staff who work with them.”

The full letters are available for download online: NDHHS and Supreme Court 

Cosigners include Voices for Children in Nebraska, Nebraska Appleseed, RISE Nebraska, the ACLU of Nebraska, Black and Pink, juvenile defense attorney Christine Henningsen, the Coalition for a Strong Nebraska, Inclusive Communities, the Arc of Nebraska, and Disability Rights Nebraska.

For interview requests with the ACLU of Nebraska, please email Sam Petto at spetto@aclunebraska.org

For interview requests with Voices for Children, please email Amy Lillethorup at alillethorup@voicesforchildren.com 

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