The Perfect Enemy | Youths at Wayne Co. juvenile jail held in rooms for up to 10 days after COVID-19 outbreak - Detroit Free Press
January 29, 2023

Youths at Wayne Co. juvenile jail held in rooms for up to 10 days after COVID-19 outbreak – Detroit Free Press

Youths at Wayne Co. juvenile jail held in rooms for up to 10 days after COVID-19 outbreak  Detroit Free Press

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Wayne County juvenile jail officials say they’ve kept some youths confined to their rooms for up to 10 days in recent weeks because of a COVID-19 outbreak that began in late December in the facility’s male units.

Even those boys who have potentially been exposed to the virus have been confined to their rooms for days at the Wayne County Juvenile Detention Facility without showers or recreation “out of an abundance of caution” and “to minimize their risk and reduce ongoing spread,” a county spokeswoman wrote in response to questions from the Free Press.

“Youth have remained in their rooms during the quarantine period and have not been out for recreation, showers or other daily activities, however, they have been receiving social services in their rooms,” said Tiffani Jackson, a spokesperson for Wayne County Executive Warren Evans. “Additionally, they have received hygiene kits to be able to maintain proper hygiene during this period.”

Persistent problems in providing basic care

Confining juveniles in their rooms for long periods of time at the county facility has been a persistent complaint from parents, youths and advocates even before last month’s outbreak. Experts say regular isolation for children outside of sleeping hours can hurt their mental health and recommend no more than four hours daily, according to national standards.

An ongoing Free Press investigation previously found complaints youths were denied basic care, including daily showers, recreation, medication and education. County officials have said they’ve struggled with overcrowding and understaffing at the facility, which has received permission from the state health department to bend lockdown and staffing rules.

The county relocated juveniles to a former adult jail in the city of Hamtramck, the William Dickerson Detention Facility, in late October to improve safety conditions after youths were able to break out of their rooms.

When youth are not in quarantine at Dickerson, county officials have said the juveniles are getting out of their rooms a minimum of two hours a day, depending on staffing levels.

More:Officials: ‘Drastic’ action needed at Wayne County juvenile jail

More:Youths at Wayne County juvenile jail left mostly to educate themselves without teachers

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that a 10-day isolation period “provides the greatest protection from potential COVID-19 transmission” for someone exposed to COVID-19 in group settings, but acknowledged it is “disruptive to their lives and to facility operations.” It suggests facilities could allow those quarantined as a group to “move outside of their housing space and continue daily activities as a group.”

Parents worried by lack of contact

Jackson said youths potentially exposed to COVID-19 were initially allowed out for activities but due to an increase in cases, authorities decided to keep the juveniles in their rooms instead to “minimize their risk and reduce ongoing spread.” She said juveniles still are receiving medical, behavioral and social services care in isolation.

Parents say they are worried about their children after not getting phone calls or allowed visits with them in several weeks.

One mother said she has not seen or spoken to her 17-year-old son, who is housed at Dickerson, in three or four weeks. She said she was told last week that her son had not tested positive for COVID-19. The mother, who asked not to be named over concerns that her son could face repercussions for her speaking out, said she wrote her son a letter and sent him a card, but has not been able to talk with him by phone or visit in person.

It’s been “a little upsetting because I would like to hear … from his mouth that he’s doing OK,” the mother said. “But I’m going to keep writing him.”

“It is crucial that we prioritize the well-being of these young people and work to prevent further harm.”

Jason Smith

Jason Smith, executive director of the Michigan Center for Youth Justice

And Jason Smith, executive director of the Michigan Center for Youth Justice, said he’s “deeply concerned” about the long confinements.

“We must remember that seclusion can have serious harms, including physical and psychological harm, and that confinement in general should only be used as a last resort,” Smith wrote in an email to the Free Press. “It is crucial that we prioritize the well-being of these young people and work to prevent further harm.”

Jackson couldn’t immediately say how many of the 118 boys currently housed at the facility have tested positive for COVID-19 or been quarantined since late last month. She said state test results could clear the facility to resume normal operations soon.

The COVID-19 outbreak also has delayed plans to resume in-person teaching for the boys housed at Dickerson.

Teachers have been absent from the facility since the move to Dickerson this fall because Capstone Academy, the charter school which operated in the pervious Detroit location, was authorized to educate youths only within the city limits. The move to Hamtramck left teachers unable to give in-person instruction and instead youths were given packets of worksheets to complete on their own, officials said.

Parents and advocates have been upset that the lapse in schooling exacerbates living conditions for juveniles already struggling educationally. Defense attorneys and parents have told the Free Press that the lack of in-person teaching was a problem prior to the Dickerson move in October. Attorney Lynda McGhee said four of her youth clients told her they hadn’t seen teachers since at least September and had nothing to write with to complete their schoolwork packets.

County officials said relocating to Dickerson was an emergency move and they weren’t able to rework the Capstone contract until late December. Wayne RESA, the county’s intermediate school district, was added as a coauthorizer so the teachers can work in Hamtramck.

Capstone was able to start some in-person teaching in classrooms for girls at the facility on Wednesday, Jackson said. The COVID-19 outbreak hasn’t similary affected the female unit, which currently has 21 girls housed there, she said.

Contact Christine MacDonald: cmacdonald@freepress.com or 313-418-2149. Follow her on Twitter: @cmacfreep. Contact Gina Kaufman: gkaufman@freepress.com Follow her on Twitter: @ReporterGina.