by Free Alabama Movement
Open letter to Gov. Kay Ivey and concerned Alabama citizens, juvenile advocates and state leaders
Re: Children in juvenile detention facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic: Where is their advocacy and why isn’t anyone demanding their release?
With each passing day, the clamor about a potential human rights nightmare taking place inside America’s overcrowded prisons and jails grows louder. We are seeing more and more videos emerge from inside these facilities by courageous (and sometimes sick) men and women showing the world that the structure and conditions inside of the human warehouses are tinderboxes for COVID-19.
As a result of these images and stories and advocacy, thousands of men and women across the United States have been released, with the promise of more releases to come. Just yesterday, Alabama’s Parole Bureau announced plans to re-start parole review amid mounting pressure from public discontent.
Despite these positive, though belated developments, the loudest noise emerging from this crisis is the silence that is emanating from the lack of dialogue about the thousands of vulnerable children who are detained in Alabama’s youth detention facilities. Where is their advocacy and why is no one demanding their release? It’s time to start asking ourselves a few questions:
1. How many children are currently in the custody of Alabama’s juvenile detention facilities?
2. What are the conditions that these children are being detained in as it relates to COVID-19?
3. Are any children at any facility being subjected to a heightened risk of exposure to COVID-19 as a result of their housing or living conditions?
4. What type of safety precautions are in place to protect these children from COVID-19?
5. Has Alabama released any children from juvenile detention facilities due to COVID-19? If not, why?
6. Are these children being provided masks, gloves, soaps, hand sanitizers and other PPEs?
7. In this state of emergency, is the media allowed into these facilities to assess the conditions that these children are being housed in and to verify any account given by juvenile authorities?
8. With COVID-19 now having a disproportionate impact on African Americans, what are the demographics and racial make-up of Alabama’s juvenile populations overall and at each facility?
9. Who is responsible for devising and implementing emergency planning as it relates to children in juvenile detention facilities?
These questions obviously lead into the most important question of them all: Has anyone – staff, judicial official or case worker – who has come into contact with these children tested positive for COVID-19, or has any child tested positive for COVID-19? Indeed, has any testing at all been done? Are temperatures being checked?
What protocols are being followed to protect these children? As I said, there is a deafening silence on this topic in the COVID-19 prison and jail commentary. When we talk about the most vulnerable people in society to COVID-19, who is more vulnerable than a child?
In our opinion, which is supported by studies on the school-to-prison pipeline, the juvenile justice system has served as a feeder system for the adult prisons.
These children lack the mental acumen to fully grasp and comprehend this once-in-a-lifetime type of pandemic. Then, we have to take into account that some of these children suffer from mental health and emotional issues, psychological trauma from being in these facilities that weaken their immune systems, physical disabilities etc.
Are they being allowed phone calls every day to contact their families? Are they in school or has their school been suspended? We have all of these children locked up in these juvenile detention facilities that look and operate just like jails and prisons, yet we aren’t receiving any information on their well-being and we don’t know what the plan is for their safety.
We have to keep in mind that these children are not criminals. They have not been convicted of any crime. No, instead, many of them are simply juvenile delinquents and have sentences that range from maybe a few days to less than six months. This is because their delinquent act may have been running away from home. Acting out in school. Shoplifting or stealing a bicycle or car. You know, the very things that juvenile are apt to do.
Some, of course, may have committed more serious offenses, but the issue is, should these delinquent acts now carry a potential COVID-19 death sentence because the children so happened to be in a juvenile detention facility when this deadly virus emerged? The answer to that question is emphatically NO!
So, the final question is, what should we be doing to #FreeOurChildren? Many of us in FREE ALABAMA MOVEMENT have travelled through these juvenile detention facilities in the past on our way to these adult prisons. That is why it is easy for us to notice the silence across the spectrum of conversation when it comes to children in detention.
These children, most likely, are living in the same squalor and moral decay that we now find ourselves living in in these adult prisons. In our opinion, which is supported by studies on the school-to-prison pipeline, the juvenile justice system has served as a feeder system for the adult prisons. In fact, many of these facilities don’t prepare these children for a successful re-entry into society; instead, they prepared us for successful entry into the adult prison system, all the way down to the (illegal) free labor.
These juvenile facilities are an important part of the overall carceral eco-system, as the adult prison system depends on these juvenile facilities to keep turning out assets for future capitalization. Thus, we should not only be fighting to save the lives of these children from COVID-19, but in doing so we will also be saving them from a dysfunctional juvenile system that will only serve to prepare them to spend time in an adult prison – namely, the new facilities that Gov. Kay Ivey is planning to build.
Free Alabama Movement
Free Alabama Movement can be reached via Bennu Hannibal Ra Sun, formerly known as Melvin Ray, 163343, St. Clair Correctional Facility, 1000 St. Clair Rd, Springville AL 35146.