Friday, 27 Nov 2020

COVID-19 cases surge inside Colorado’s juvenile prisons

Juvenile correctional facilities across Colorado are seeing a surge in COVID-19 cases among staff and youth offenders as the state struggles to handle a rise in the novel coronavirus.

A total of 51 youth have tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic began in March — with 36 new cases in the past two weeks, according to Division of Youth Services data. Thirty of those cases are currently active, with 38 youth in medical isolation or quarantine.

Three youth facilities — the Adams Youth Services Center in Brighton, Spring Creek Youth Services Center in Colorado Springs and Mount View Youth Services Center in Denver — have current COVID-19 outbreaks, a Colorado Department of Human Services spokesman confirmed.

Elise Logemann, the Juvenile Justice Policy Counsel for the ACLU of Colorado, called for the state to release more youth offenders to prevent further outbreaks.

“As COVID-19 cases skyrocket across Colorado and several counties tighten restrictions to halt the spread of the coronavirus, we can not ignore the rising number of cases in our juvenile facilities,” she said in an email. “The number of kids in custody must be safely reduced now to protect kids, staff, families and the public from this deadly pandemic.”

On top of youth cases, there are 34 active COVID-19 cases among staff members at these facilities, state data show, including 12 people who work at Mount View and six employees at Spring Creek. Eighty-eight staff members have tested positive since March.

In light of staff shortages, the state has sent an additional seven employees to one of the youth centers, said Mark Techmeyer, a state Department of Humans Service spokesman, in an email. He did not specify which center.

“All other youth centers have adequate staffing in place and do not require additional assistance,” Techmeyer added.

The state is taking a number of measures as it attempts to limit outbreaks inside its facilities, Techmeyer said in the email, including increasing prevalence testing, keeping family visits virtual and screening for symptoms for staff and approved visitors.

The Division of Youth Service is also adding a pilot program in November to add rapid testing when youth are admitted on top of the PCR nasal swab testing, Techmeyer said.

The 51 confirmed youth cases in Colorado’s juvenile facilities are the 16th highest in the country, though several states have not reported data, according to a running total tracked by The Sentencing Project, a national criminal justice reform organization.

As of Oct. 19, at least 1,972 youth in juvenile facilities across the country have tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic began in March, according to the organization’s tally.

Cases also continue to go up in Colorado’s adult prisons, with the state’s Department of Corrections this week confirming that a fourth inmate has died from the novel coronavirus.

Across the state, outbreaks continue at 19 jails, prisons and halfway houses, according to state outbreak data published Wednesday. Hundreds of incarcerated people have tested positive as well as dozens of staff members who work at the facilities.

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