Story at a glance

  • New York has released hundreds of elderly prisoners who are at high risk for contracting COVID-19 while in custody.
  • A law firm is suing the state for the release of 22 teenagers in juvenile detention.
  • A new analysis from the CDC shows that the coronavirus can be equally dangerous for youth as it can be for older Americans.

New York made headlines last week when it released hundreds of nonviolent, elderly prisoners from Rikers in an effort to stem the coronavirus pandemic. Now, a law firm is suing the state on behalf of teenagers sharing dining rooms, bathrooms, showers and even bedrooms in juvenile detention.

"Across New York City, extraordinary and unprecedented measures affecting every aspect of life are being taken in the name of protecting people from this pandemic. New York cannot leave these young and susceptible individuals behind to suffer potentially dire consequences," reads the Legal Aid Society’s lawsuit filed on March 26. 

The firm is asking the commissioner of the city's children's services administration for the immediate release of what they believe to be 22 youth between 13 and 17 years old who are currently held in detention centers while their cases are pending trial.


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It echoes recommendations from Physicians for Criminal Justice Reform and Youth Correctional Leaders for Justice (YCLJ) to release youths who can safely return home under the care of community support and supervision, slow if not stop new admissions to juvenile detention centers and establish a safety plan for those who remain in custody. YCLJ has also called for the elimination of fines and fees which can hurt low-income families amid record unemployment and identifying and separating youth in custody with preexisting conditions. 

In the lawsuit, the LAS said youth in the juvenile justice system are generally less healthy than their peers, being more likely to go for long stretches without health insurance and to engage in sexual behavior putting them at risk for HIV, AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. At the same time, many of these teenagers are black or Hispanic and come from poor communities, which record high rates of asthma. 

“Indeed, one in four children in poor neighborhoods in New York City have been found to have asthma. And according to one recent study, 1 in 5 New York City teens has undiagnosed asthma," the lawsuit said, citing a study by the state of New York and another by a doctor at the Columbia University Nursing school. COVID-19 can affect the nose, throat and lungs, causing asthma attacks and possibly leading to serious complications, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  

The lawsuit comes as White House coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx and other public health officials voice concern over the danger COVID-19 poses to younger populations and the vital role younger generations play in stopping the pandemic


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Published on Mar 30, 2020