One Franklin County mother first learned that her child had contracted COVID-19 in the Franklin County Juvenile Detention Center through the sporadic calls she received from him in the last month or so.
The mother, who has asked Columbus Underground to not identify her for fear of having her child’s case impacted, says the detention center didn’t give her any information regarding her son’s contraction of the coronavirus. She says according to the facility, letters were sent out and calls from their doctors were made, but she never received them.
Even before the pandemic, there had been an “extreme breakdown” in communication between her and the detention center. Now amid the pandemic, the absence of communication is frustrating.
“It’s heartbreaking. You don’t know what health condition your child’s in. You don’t know when you’re going to hear from them again,” says the mother. “So it’s very frustrating. You try to be patient and try to work with [the detention center], but you really don’t get anywhere with them.”
In both adult prisons and juvenile detention facilities, if someone has COVID-19, they are likely put in some sort of solitary confinement or social isolation, which, according to the reports, can cause “extreme psychological, physical, and developmental harm” even to adults, let alone young people.
The woman’s son has been kept in isolation since at least April, when he was first tested. She calls the treatment from the detention center “inhumane” — there was even a time where he didn’t shower for three days, she says, because no one came to check on him.
She also wonders if he is getting proper medical treatment. And because he has depression and anxiety on top of all of this, she worries for his mental health.
“My son’s only seen a nurse every three days. [They] don’t even give the child the opportunity to ask questions or even advocate for themselves,” she says.
“You put him in this type of situation only heightens the depression, only heightens the the level of anxiety. It doesn’t help him. Sometimes it’s completely crippling to him,” she says. “And if there’s a health professional in the facility, they should know their confinement is not the most conducive way of treating them.”
The mother says her other concern is if her child could contract the new coronavirus a second time. According to the World Health Organization in a April 24 statement, “There is currently no evidence that people who have recovered from COVID-19 and have antibodies are protected from a second infection.”
And in a Huffington Post interview in March, Dr. Peter Jung, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston says, “No one knows for sure, but most children likely develop at least short-term immunity to the specific coronavirus that causes COVID-19. But just as the flu can mutate, so could COVID-19.”
“They’re with the same people, with the same employees,” says the mother. “So if there is a second go round of this, how are they protecting our children from that?”
Advocates have spent weeks and months calling for the release of young people stuck in Ohio’s prisons during the coronavirus pandemic, suggesting the young people in Ohio’s detention centers be sent home to their parents or guardians.
Youth in juvenile detention centers have not yet been charged with a crime, and most children are unsure when they are going back to court. Getting a child out of the facility is also not as simple as paying bail. The son’s bail was originally at $100,000, but the mother got it reduced to $75,000. However, paying that amount of money is still something the average parent cannot afford.
In response to calls for release, advocates say they have only gotten blanket responses back.
The mother and advocates have spoken with various local officials on this issue. They’ve been told, among other things, that the detention center has reduced its population from 70 or so to a population in the 40s. They have also been told they are using some type of risk assessment to see if youth would qualify for release. But there has not been a response on what those qualifications are.
The mother says that her son would not qualify as a violent offender; she called the idea that a risk assessment had been done to be “false and inaccurate.”
Tammy Fornier-Alsaada, lead organizer for the Juvenile Justice Coalition, points to juvenile justice experts, who continue to demonstrate that home and community-based interventions “with caring adults” are more effective than incarceration for youth.
“That’s what we want to see,” she says.
As for the mother, she wants to see the same thing, “so if they do need additional medical care, the parents can go out and get it for them.”
“The adults who are supposed to be there and take care of them are not doing that,” she says. “They’re just being held like caged animals, with no concern of their mental health, the emotional health, their physical health.”