Last updated May 11, 2020

As federal, state, and local governments continue navigating appropriate responses to those most impacted by COVID-19, it’s crucial to remember the significant impact had on youth who are involved with the juvenile justice system, whether they are currently incarcerated, being released, or on probation. The Commonwealth should protect the health, safety, and well-being of youth involved with the Department of Juvenile Justice. 

Prioritizing the young people in the juvenile justice system requires federal investment and state level action to support the following.

Ensure the Physical Safety and Health of Youth and Staff in DJJ Facilities

This includes adequate cleaning of facilities, prevention protocols, supply of test kits, and care of those who show symptoms of COVID-19. The Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) has protocols in place to protect staff and youth in facilities, including a daily assessment of COVID-19 symptoms. 

National and local juvenile justice organizations are advocating for federal funding to be made available to states to ensure (among other things) facilities have enough testing kits, cleaning supplies, and funding to implement preventative supports as needed. 

Release youth from detention when it is safe to do so

There is currently no statewide mandate to release youth from detention facilities. Releases are occurring on a county-by-county basis, with judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys leading the efforts. The American Academy of Pediatrics recently released a statement recommending that youth in detention be released.  Their letter offers policy suggestions on reentry for youth and their families, suggestions for medical professionals to advocate for their release, and describes the marginalized communities who are disproportionately impacted by COVID and why.

The Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) should issue recommendations or mandates around youth who can be released. 

Meet the needs of kids who have been released from detention

When youth are released, Kentucky must ensure that kids have access to the behavioral health supports they need. Because parents and caregivers may not be expecting those children to return home, Kentucky must also ensure that families can have their basic needs met. Families should not have to bear the cost of the Home Incarceration Program or behavioral health services.

National and local juvenile justice organizations are advocating for federal funding to be made available to states to support the ongoing rehabilitation of youth in the juvenile justice system. 

Next Steps: 

  • TAKE ACTION by asking Congress to allocate $100 million in Federal Emergency Appropriations to fund essential services and supports for young people in the juvenile justice system during this time and ensure that access to Medicaid is immediately available upon leaving facilities.
  • Check out resources from the National Juvenile Justice Network on responses during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

View our COVID-19 and Kentucky Kids webpage to stay up-to-date on ongoing efforts.