Youth advocates will lead a protest at the state’s juvenile detention center at 1839 Hogan St. on Thursday, June 11 at 7 p.m. — in response to the rapid spread of COVID-19 among the children and staff.
There are 23 active COVID-19 cases among the youth living there and 14 cases of staff members, according to the Missouri Department of Social Services. The Post-Dispatch reported that there are 28 youth living at the center.
The St. Louis American requested comment from the department and is awaiting response.
“Every day, the evidence mounts that COVID-19 is no respecter of age,” said Latrisha Gandy, parent organizer for Metropolitan Congregations United (MCU).
“Our youth cannot be sacrificed. Are their offenses worth keeping the youth detained away from their families? No. Period. Send them home.”
Metropolitan Congregations United (MCU) and Campaign for Youth Justice (TCYJ) are strongly urging the state and local authorities to release youth to their families, they said in an open letter.
On May 8, the groups held a drive-by protest, when there was reportedly only one COVID-19 case at the center. At that time, the groups expressed concern “that isolation would not be effective and would only create more emotional harm to the youth.”
They are now demanding a meeting with Scott Odum, the director of the Missouri Division of Youth Services, by Friday, June 12.
“These youth could have been sent home a month ago and saved this agony,” said Rev. Dietra Baker, lead organizer of MCU’s Break the Pipeline campaign. “The will to keep these youth safe is not present.”
MCU has been working on school-to-prison pipeline issues for five years and recently has worked on the decarceration of youth and adults held by the Missouri Department of Correction during the pandemic.
The letter points to research that shows incarcerated populations are at at-risk during a public health crisis.
“Behind bars, youth are not able to participate in proactive measures to keep themselves safe, such as social distancing, frequently washing hands, or staying in sanitized spaces,” the letter states. “Infection control is a challenge in these situations as incarcerated youth are in close contact to other youth and staff in communal settings. Even if youth are in individual cells, ventilation is often inadequate, and fresh air infrequent.”
The letter also makes several demands, including halting new admissions to juvenile detention facilities, eliminating jail time as an option for technical violations of probation, and creating an immediate moratorium of all fines and fees in the juvenile legal system.
“There is a pandemic in our community, and we are not protecting all of our children,” the letter states. “We have closed our public schools and are shifting to supporting children in their homes and communities. Yet we have left some of our youth behind, living and going to school in group settings where the coronavirus is known to thrive.”