PJDC Calls on California Supreme Court to Provide Guidance to Lower Courts on Releasing Children From Confinement During COVID-19

Photo Courtesy of Richard RossOn April 4, 2020, PJDC sent an open letter to California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, calling on the court and the Judicial Council to issue COVID-19 guidance to juvenile delinquency courts across the State that have not addressed the crisis facing incarcerated children. The letter describes the confusion and failure in Los Angeles County to take steps to release youth from juvenile halls and camps.

The letter was issued in advance of an emergency meeting to be held on Monday, April 6, 2020, by the Judicial Council.  The Judicial Council is the body that develops and issues court rules that set out procedures and policies to be used by lower criminal and juvenile courts.

PJDC Policy Director Sue Burrell said, “There is tremendous need for clear guidance to juvenile courts and court professionals. It is also important to dispel the argument being made in some courts that youth are safer in detention than locked in a detention facility in the midst of this pandemic. This is simply not the case, given the very real dangers that youth and staff may succumb to the virus and that facility health systems may be overwhelmed.”

PJDC notes in the letter that the Judicial Council and Supreme Court need to order lower courts to direct the presiding judge in each county juvenile court to immediately convene and oversee a process in which probation, the district attorney, the public defender or other defender agency, and other relevant agencies evaluate each youth in custody for immediate release.  The letter also asks Justice Cantil-Sakauye and the Judicial Council to order lower courts to ensure timely hearings and appointment of counsel.

PJDC President JiSeon Song stated, “COVID-19 poses an unprecedented to youth and staff who work in the system, and to the public if our health system should be overwhelmed by failure to stem the spread of COVID-19 in institutions. In this context, public safety includes consideration of the public health risks of any decision.”

Public comments may be submitted to the judicialcouncil@jud.ca.gov by 5:00 on Sunday, April 5.