Health experts warn that congregate settings place all people at substantial risk of illness and death, and declare that reducing the number of people housed in detention facilities immediately is critically necessary for the health and safety of those facilities and our communities. Children confined in juvenile halls and camps in California are also at great risk and must be evaluated for release. There are things families and relatives of children in halls and camps can do:
- Call and ask your child’s attorney to consider filing a Welfare and Institutions Code section 778 petition in juvenile court to get your child released. A section 778 petition asks the juvenile court to change a commitment order because there are changed circumstances. With a section 778 petition, your attorney can argue that the continued confinement of your child in a juvenile hall or camp places the child at serious risk of physical, psychological, and emotional harm because of the current pandemic. Because your child’s continued confinement makes it significantly more likely that the child will contract the COVID-19 virus and become gravely ill, and/or spread it to someone else, this constitutes a significant change of circumstance justifying modification of the court’s order. Another change of circumstance may involve services your child was supposed to be given and is not receiving in the current crisis. Your attorney can argue that your child can be safely released to you, another family member, or relative, on probation with appropriate conditions. You can help your child’s attorney by providing critical information. For example, health information: if your child suffers from asthma or another respiratory problem, the attorney will need this information for the petition to argue that the child is particularly vulnerable to infection. Release plan: your attorney will need your assistance creating a plan that convinces the judge that your child can be released to a place where the child and the public will be safe. Tell your child’s attorney that a template motion with exhibits is available on the Pacific Juvenile Defender Website, along with a list of attorneys who can help answer questions.
- If your child’s attorney does not respond to your call within a reasonable time, you can prepare and file a section 778 petition yourself. You can download the WIC 778 Interested Party Template Petition, fill it out, attach the exhibits, and file it in the juvenile court.
- Another option is to write a letter to the presiding judge for the juvenile court in your county. That judge has the duty to inspect juvenile facilities in the county at least once a year and if the judge finds that a facility does not meet state standards, that must be reported to the head of the facility and to the Board of State and Community Corrections. Here is a template for writing a letter saying that your child has reported experiencing conditions that do not meet state standards, and asking that the judge use his/her power both to report the violations and also to use his/her power to release your child.
- Another option is to write a letter to the probation officer asking for release of the child pursuant to the California Department of Justice April 14, 2020, No. 2020-DLE-05 Information Bulletin: “COVID-19 and Statutory Authority Under Government Code Section 8658.” A template letter, below, explains how to do that and what kind of information you might want to include. Be sure to attach a copy of the “2020-DLE-05 Information Bulletin” and the “3-30-20 BSCC GUIDANCE ON JUVENILE FACILITIES” appearing immediately above.
If you would like support in preparing information, such as a re-entry plan, for Step #1, or filling out the template if the lawyer does not respond (Step #2) or filling out and sending the letter to the presiding judge (Step #3), participatory defense hubs from across California can assist. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and you will be directed to the hub closest to your residence.