A Maryland Court of Appeals judge issued an order Monday aimed at limiting the number of juveniles in detention facilities amid the novel coronavirus outbreak.
Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera’s order pertains to juveniles who are detained and committed, such as in a Maryland Department of Juvenile Services facility, or juveniles who are awaiting placement in such a facility, according to a press release announcing the order.
The order specifically addresses judges responsible for handling juvenile cases, encouraging them “to limit detention or commitment, unless necessary to protect the safety of that juvenile respondent or the safety of others, in or to Maryland juvenile detention and treatment facilities,” according to the order.
Barbera also asked judges to carefully consider a multitude of other factors, such as whether a juvenile has a pre-existing medical condition that would put them at higher risk for the virus, whether family members or another form of placement is available to the youth and whether the youth has symptoms of COVID-19.
The order also mandates new review hearings to be held every 14 days for any juveniles who remain in detention or committed placement while the pandemic lasts.
Barbera’s decision comes after several DJS staff, contractors and detained youth have tested positive for the virus, with news of the first confirmed case of a DJS employee testing positive coming in a press release issued earlier this month.
As of Tuesday, a total of 11 juveniles and staff around the state have tested positive for COVID-19, according to Jenny Egan, the chief attorney of the Baltimore City Juvenile Division of the Office of the Public Defender in a press release from the Maryland Office of the Public Defender praising Barbera’s order.
There were no confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Tuesday at the Victor Cullen Center, a Department of Juvenile Services’ hardware-secure commitment facility for higher-risk male juvenile offenders in Sabillasville, said Eric Solomon, a DJS spokesman, in an email.
“Additionally, there are no youth or staff showing symptoms of the virus,” Solomon added.
That includes essential staff and the 24 juveniles being held at the facility as of Tuesday, but Solomon’s response did not include how many juveniles or staff, if any, had been tested for the virus. Solomon also stated the health, safety and well-being of the children, DJS staff and the community were the “top priorities” of DJS during the state of emergency, and that Barbera’s orders are being adhered to strictly.
“In evaluating whether to recommend community supervision, DJS considers factors specific to each youth, including their medical history, the availability of family or other support systems in the community, and ultimately public safety,” Solomon’s statement reads in part. “... The courts make the decision on whether to release a youth, and DJS strives to ensure the court has a comprehensive overview of a youth’s circumstances, risk level, and the Department’s continued ability to supervise youth successfully in the community during this crisis.”
Solomon’s statement also addressed several complaints brought by American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Maryland Council 3, a state workers union representing, among others, 50 employees at the Victor Cullen Center.
Along with a lack of communication between DJS administration and employees at juvenile services facilities in Western Maryland, the AFSCME said that personal protective equipment and general guidance was lacking, in a press release Tuesday.
“None of the Western Maryland facilities have masks to provide to employees ... [And] there are no plans posted or discussed identifying proper procedures if a child or staffer tests positive for COVID-19,” the release states.
Solomon’s statement claims that all DJS staff and juveniles have been provided with face masks that they are required to wear at all times. Solomon also stated that DJS staff and medical teams have been given gowns, gloves, face shields and sanitizer, all of which he said are restocked as needed. DJS also has a plan in effect to handle any youth confirmed or suspected have COVID-19 that includes mitigating exposure to staff, Solomon said.
”Steps include placing the youth in medical isolation, providing PPE to the youth and staff caring for the youth, ensuring access to hygiene items, providing items helpful to address a youth’s symptoms, requiring appropriate signage and medical documentation, and requiring frequent wellness checks and medical interventions,” Solomon’s statement reads. “DJS also identified activities and materials that can be provided to youth while recovering from the virus, and it will ensure frequent youth and medical team contact with the appropriate family/community support system.”