Criminal justice advocate urges release of juvenile detainees

By , Daily Memphian Updated: March 19, 2020 3:09 PM CT | Published: March 19, 2020 2:49 PM CT

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A criminal justice reform advocate is calling for all children detained in Shelby County’s juvenile detention center to be released immediately to reduce the impact of the coronavirus.


Sheriff says he has ‘no authority’ to release inmates due to COVID-19


Josh Spickler, executive director of Just City, said in a March 19 letter to Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris, Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner Jr. and Shelby County Juvenile Court Judge Dan Michael that he is concerned about the children. He said there are more than 100 in question.

“As states across the country undertake steps to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus, closing schools, canceling events, and shifting to supporting children in their homes and communities, one group of young people is being left behind: nearly 50,000 youth in custody in the United States,” Spickler wrote. “As you know, more than 100 children are in detention in Shelby County as we enter the early stages of this crisis.”

<strong>Josh Spickler</strong>

Josh Spickler

Spickler and other juvenile justice advocates across the country, led by Youth First, are calling for the children to be released.

They say the children have either not been convicted or those who have been convicted are being held on technical probation violations. The children pose no threat to the community, Spickler says.

He said the youths cannot participate in proactive measures, such as social distancing and frequently washing their hands to protect themselves against the virus.

The Shelby County Sheriff’s Office has already suspended in-person visitation at the detention center and made phone calls free so children can keep in contact with their family members.


Sheriff’s Office suspends visitation at juvenile detention center


But Spickler said that is not enough.

“This is not the time for youth to be separated from their support systems,” he wrote. “This will only exacerbate mental health issues and further isolate youth.”

Advocates argue the detention centers aren’t equipped to meet the medical needs of the children if there was a COVID-19 outbreak inside the facilities.

Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner, in a recent letter to county officials, explained he does not have the authority to release inmates from the county correctional facilities. He said that decision is up to the courts.

Criminal Justice officials across the country are dealing with the safety of adult inmates in jails and prisons and as well as children in youth detention centers.

Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner, in a recent letter to county officials, explained he does not have the authority to release inmates from the county correctional facilities. He said that decision is up to the courts.

Across the country, attorneys are submitting motions asking for the release of prisoners. Spickler said he knows Shelby County Public Defender Phyllis Aluko is pushing to have inmates released, but he wants all the officials to come together quickly and address the issue.

“This is not like the Department of Justice oversight that demands we make incremental changes over years. This is immediate,” Spickler said about the children in juvenile detention. “These are risks that are present right now. I would hope they get together and address this in the ways that we suggest.”

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Topics

Josh Spickler Floyd Bonner Jr. Dan Michael Lee Harris Just City Youth First
Yolanda Jones

Yolanda Jones

Yolanda Jones covers criminal justice issues and general assignment news for The Daily Memphian. She previously was a reporter at The Commercial Appeal.

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