Detroit — Some youths in the Wayne County Juvenile Detention Facility who were confined to their rooms for up to 10 days because of a COVID-19 outbreak in the center have now been released, a Wayne County spokesperson said Thursday.
The youths who tested positive for COVID-19 and those who had potential exposures were quarantined in their rooms for 10 days, without showers or recreation time, to minimize the spread, Wayne County Executive Office spokesperson Tiffani Jackson said. The last juveniles getting out of quarantine were released Monday.
The juveniles contained in their rooms were given access to therapists and social workers, Jackson wrote in an email, and staffers talked to them to ensure they had some social interaction. They were given hygiene kits with a washcloth, soap, toothbrush and toothpaste and could bathe in the sinks in their rooms, she said.
While quarantined, the juveniles were not able to attend visitation or make phone calls to family or friends, Jackson said.
“After considering equally important but sometimes conflicting concerns, quarantine was determined to bethe most prudent option to minimize the potential for rapid, widespread transmission of COVID-19 withinthe Juvenile Detention Facility,” Jackson said.
The Detroit Free Press has previously reported on complaints of juveniles being confined to their rooms and deprived of basic care like daily showers, recreation time and vital medicine during times without COVID outbreaks.
The detention center has struggled with overcrowding and understaffing, partially because so many teens were awaiting residential placement for mental health or behavioral treatment, former Wayne County Chief Circuit Court Judge Timothy Kenny said in August.
Confining and isolating juveniles can cause psychological harm, said Jason Smith, the executive director of the Michigan Center for Youth Justice. It’s a major issue that kids are not able to participate in activities and shower, he said.
Smith said he understands the need to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks, but handling quarantines like this is only doing further damage to the kids in custody at the detention center. It can also lead to distrust in the system, if juveniles feel they are being punished instead of rehabilitated or treated, he said.
“Michigan’s juvenile justice system is supposed to be treatment focused,” Smith said. “I think every case should be evaluated to determine if confinement is absolutely needed. It should be the last resort, it should be limited.”
Smith recommended limiting residential placement to youth who are an immediate and significant public safety risk, and to reduce admissions as much as possible. He said looking at cases to see who could safely return him could reduce the number of juveniles in detention and reduce the spread of the virus.