Unprecedented measures have been taken to protect youth throughout the country during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the response is leaving a group of young people behind: The over 160 Nevada youth held in the custody of state-run facilities and thousands more held in county and local detention centers and camps.

In Nevada, We’ve seen the closure of schools, and the canceling of events, but we must protect young people in the criminal justice system as well.

That’s why the ACLU of Nevada, along with partners at the Children’s Advocacy Alliance, UC Berkeley Law Policy Advocacy Clinic, and the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, are calling on Governor Sisolak and the leaders of Nevada’s juvenile justice system to take immediate action to protect Nevada’s incarcerated youth from the spread of COVID-19.

Health care experts have said incarcerated populations are most at risk during a public health crisis. Youth behind bars are often unable to practice safety measures such as social distancing, frequent handwashing, and staying in sanitary areas.

On March 25, Nevada announced its first COVID-19 related death of a young adult, punctuating the need to protect this vulnerable population.

We understand that the leaders of Nevada’s juvenile facilities are working hard to protect incarcerated youth and staff alike. We’re concerned that an outbreak in a juvenile facility could lead to de facto solitary confinement, which would have severe consequences for a young person’s mental health and would also be a violation of Nevada law.

In a letter to the leaders of the juvenile justice system, we have called for the immediate public release of emergency plans for addressing COVID-19 and put forward six recommendations to protect Nevada’s youth:

  • Reduce admission to detention facilities and camps. This can be achieved by eliminating detention for newly arrested youth who do not pose a serious risk of physical harm to others, a moratorium on the issuing of new arrest warrants, and an allowance for those with outstanding warrants to call in rather than surrender in person to schedule a future court date.
  • Remove youth from detention facilities and camps. Officials can hold hearings to determine which youth can be safely released to the community, to order the immediate release of all eligible juveniles, and to examine processes to determine release eligibility as quickly as possible.
  • Any youth who displays COVID-19 symptoms and has a chronic illness or underlying condition should be discharged to proper and adequate medical care immediately.
  • Youth who are awaiting release from a facility should have access to video visitation, information regarding COVID-19, education, legal counsel, family support networks, and free phone calls.
  • Youth on probation should not be incarcerated for technical violations. These youth should not be required to meet with probation officers in person, attend programs, or do community service. Youth on probation should be permitted to travel or isolate as required during this time.
  • Due to the economic instability caused by COVID-19, an immediate moratorium on the assessment and collection of all fines and fees in the juvenile justice system should be established for the duration of the public health and economic crisis, including fees assessed prior to July 1, 2019 (the effective date of AB 439 ending assessment of new fees).

Given the current public health crisis, it is imperative that those with the power to protect Nevada’s youth, families, and individuals involved in the juvenile justice system do so as quickly as possible. Releasing youth before they are exposed to COVID-19 and taking these precautions will protect all of Nevada’s citizens.