The high court didn’t stand in the way of releases ordered by the county court judges who sent the juveniles to those detention, corrections and residential centers, however. And they directed county courts to restrict the number of new juvenile commitments to those facilities.
The Supreme Court ruling came in response to a petition filed by the Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center and the Youth Sentencing & Re-entry Project. Those organizations also asked the court to order that new juvenile offenders not be placed in detention until the COVID-19 pandemic abates.
Essentially, the justices said, the court system already has the situation covered. They cited an order they issued last month authorizing county courts to act to reduce the numbers of adult inmates and juvenile detainees as a precaution against the spread of the virus.
Although the court system in Pennsylvania in largely shut down, county judges are still addressing such matters, the high court noted. Prison inmate and juvenile detainee reduction efforts already are underway across the state, the justices said.
“The potential outbreak of COVID-19 in facilities housing juveniles in detention poses an undeniable threat to the health of juvenile detainees, facility staff and their families, and the surrounding community. Accordingly, action to mitigate the potential of a public health crisis is appropriate,” the justices wrote.
“We emphasize, however, that the immediate release of juveniles detained in various facilities, as sought by petitioners, fails to take into account the individual circumstances of each juvenile, including any danger to them or to others, as well as the diversity of situations present within individual institutions and communities,” they added.
They directed county president judges to address the situations regarding juveniles “immediately.”
“Judges are to undertake efforts to limit the introduction of new juveniles into the juvenile detention system during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the justices wrote.
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