Even as it faces a still-escalating coronavirus attack, Los Angeles County will reopen in-person family visits at four of its juvenile detention camps this weekend – an attempt to combat the heightened isolation young people locked up during the pandemic are experiencing.
The move follows a Board of Supervisors decision last month to resume visits at jails and juvenile detention facilities, noting at the time that the county was “in the recovery stage” of the COVID-19 pandemic.
So far, the county’s juvenile halls and adult jails remain closed to visitors to avoid spread of the virus. But after working with the county Department of Public Health to develop safety practices, beginning Sunday, the Probation Department will allow one or two parents or guardians at a time to visit some of the young people in custody. The visits will resume at four of the county’s five camps, and will take place outdoors.
“The current pandemic has brought fear and uncertainty to many in the community but, even more so to young people who are detained away from their families and friends,” Supervisor Sheila Kuehl stated in an email late Friday. “Contact with loved ones is a critical element of healing and emotional well-being for our youth, and I’m very glad to see Probation restart them.”
Since visitation was suspended on March 13 to all Los Angeles County correctional facilities, families have only been able to communicate with incarcerated youth by phone and, more recently, through videoconferencing.
In-person family visits will now be available at the Afflerbaugh, Paige, Rockey and Kilpatrick juvenile camps, where visitors must get their temperature taken in a screening booth outside of the facility. No parent with a temperature over 100 degrees or those exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms will be permitted to enter.
In order to visit, parents must bring their own cloth masks, according to rules available on the Probation Department’s website. In addition, they must maintain a 6-foot distance from youth during the visits.
Youth who are infected or who have been placed in isolation as a result of exposure to the virus will not be allowed to visit with family, though they may use videoconferencing to connect with family members.
So far, 40 youth and 54 probation staff members have tested positive for the coronavirus in juvenile detention facilities. No youth have tested positive at any of the four probation camps that will soon be resuming in-person visits.
Tom Faust, chief deputy of juvenile services for the Probation Department, said officials are moving “cautiously” with the four pilot sites, with the goal of extending in-person visits to the Dorothy Kirby Center and the county’s two juvenile halls at a later date.
“While we will certainly try to continue to push to get in-person visitation open, at the same time we’re going to make sure we’re doing it in a very prudent manner,” Faust said at a Thursday meeting of the Los Angeles County Probation Commission.
A June 23 board motion authored by Supervisor Kuehl said a lack of visitation for incarcerated youth and adults at juvenile detention facilities and adult jails “has placed an additional burden on a population that is already experiencing disproportionate rates of mental health challenges, medical issues, economic hardship and systemic racism.”
That motion sought to ensure that people who are locked up during the coronavirus pandemic would not miss out on the county’s efforts to ease restrictions and move “toward increased normalcy.”
Yet over the past month, coronavirus cases and hospitalizations have spiked, reversing what had been a downward trend.
The latest grim tally in Los Angeles County shows there are 2,470 people currently hospitalized with confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19. In mid-June, hospitalizations had dropped to their lowest point since April. But since then, hospitalizations have rocketed to their highest number since the pandemic began in mid-March.
This week has seen California wrack up several grim milestones. On Thursday, 153 people died from the coronavirus, a one-day high for the state. And California passed New York as the state with the highest count of coronavirus cases. L.A. County has been at the epicenter of the pandemic, with 4,300 COVID-19 cases — 52% of the state total, while accounting for one-fourth of the population.
Amid that backdrop, Faust said that the Probation Department would work closely with the Department of Public Health week to week to monitor the safety of visits to juvenile facilities.
“In-person visitation is extremely critical,” Faust said. “It’s something very important to the youth and very important to the family.”
Jeremy Loudenback is a senior editor for The Imprint and can be reached at [email protected]