Advocates petition Pennsylvania’s highest court for release of youth in detention amid coronavirus crisis

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — A group of juvenile justice advocates have petitioned Pennsylvania’s highest court, requesting the release of youth in detention centers during the COVID-19 crisis. 

“Obviously, this is an extraordinary situation that we feel really cries out for statewide relief at the highest level,” said Marsha Levick, chief legal officer at Juvenile Law Center. 

The group joined the Youth Sentencing and Reentry Project and DLA Piper in asking the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to use its King’s Bench powers to free youth in detention centers, adult prisons and other facilities amid the coronavirus outbreak.

“We are looking for the court to take a number of steps to reduce population as much as possible to provide opportunities to immediately release certain categories of kids, including the medically vulnerable,” Joanna Visser Adjoian of YSRP said.

She said the detention centers make it impossible to follow CDC guidelines.

“They are not able to practice social distancing, they are not able to wash their hands and do not have hand sanitizer available to them,” Visser Adjoian said. 

At least one staff member at the Juvenile Justice Center has tested positive, and advocates say any quarantine would look like solitary confinement, which can be dangerous for youth.

When asked whether the city supports releasing youth, DHS Commissioner Cynthia Figuroa said the city is continuing to look for opportunities to reduce the youth population in detention centers.


Correction: A change has been made to state that Marsha Levick is chief legal officer at Juvenile Law Center.