Important North Carolina Defender Alert

Defenders,

We want to make you aware of operational changes instituted by state juvenile justice officials in response to the Covid-19 pandemic that may affect youth held in detention. You can find the official policy release here.

Of particular concern is the provision providing for “Placement of all juvenile detention center/crisis and assessment center admissions in medical room confinement for 14 days and until cleared by a medical provider to join the general population.” Our understanding after speaking with DJJ is that newly admitted youth are being segregated into pods and largely kept in their cells, according to protocols advised by the Center for Disease Control.

While DJJ is trying to engage these youth so they don’t feel isolated, the negative effect of solitary confinement on the mental health of youth is well documented. We also understand that if the youth leaves the facility and returns (including for secure custody hearings) the youth is placed back into medical room confinement for 14 days.

We want to encourage you to talk to your client if s/he is being held in detention to find out what is happening in that particular detention facility, and use not only DJJ’s policy of encouraging release by use of electronic monitoring or other community-based options (as outlined in the policy above), but also the information available in the links below to help inform the judge of the significant negative consequences of this type of confinement of youth and their mental health – especially youth with already existing mental health challenges. If your jurisdiction does not yet utilize audio/visual transmission for detention hearings, investigate this option as it will impact whether your client will have to re-enter medical room confinement.

Below are resources that you can consider using when arguing for your client to be released from detention:

  • Language from the Governor’s and NCDPS response to the Petition for Writ of Mamandus that was filed (the language pertaining to juveniles held in detention begins on page number 25 in the brief, but page 33 in the PDF).
  • ACLU briefing paper “No Child Left Alone” – Not related to Covid-19, but addresses the devastating effects of solitary confinement, regardless of what it’s called (i.e. isolation, medical confinement, etc.)
  • The Marshall Project article “What Happens When More Than 300,000 Prisoners are Locked Down?” – while not entirely juvenile focused, this also discusses the effects of isolation in confinement. “Solitary confinement can increase anxiety and disordered thinking, worsen mental health problems and heighten the risk of suicide.”

Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us if you need help crafting a motion or argument – we’re here to help!

You can download and save a copy of this alert here.

Thank you for all that you do and are doing during this difficult and trying time.

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