CLEVELAND, OH — A statewide advocacy group is calling for all youths inside Cuyahoga County's Juvenile Detention Center to be tested for COVID-19 after three tested positive in the last week.
A juvenile court spokeswoman said the first youth tested positive last Thursday. Two others tested positive since.
In a statement to 5 On Your Side Investigators, the court said it immediately implemented "proactive and preventative measures to stop the spread of the virus starting with the first diagnosis last week."
The statement said that includes giving youth inside the facility face masks, limiting travel throughout the detention center and quarantining teens to their rooms in affected areas.
But Kenza Kamal, Policy Director for the statewide advocacy group Juvenile Justice Coalition wondered why those steps didn't happen soon.
"They say that they have taken proactive and preventative measures but that those proactive and preventative measures were implemented on May 7, after the first youth tested positive," said Kamal. "So it’s clear that that is neither proactive or preventative if you’re waiting until the first positive case which rings the alarm bells for way more cases than just one individual."
Nearly two months ago, the group called for a series of steps to protect youth in juvenile detention, including releasing youth who were awaiting hearings and haven't been found delinquent and placing offenders in community-based, alternative programs rather than leaving them locked up.
Kamal said few of those recommendations became reality.
"The reception has been really disappointing," said Kamal.
Now, she worries with teens quarantined to their rooms to limit the spread of the virus, at-risk youth are cut off from the programs designed to get them back on the right track.
"We really are just condemning kids to a really awful fate inside of these facilities," she said.
Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court said it's working to track who the infected youth came in contact with and is pledging to increase santiziation inside the facility.
But Kamal believes until all 90 youth who remain in juvenile detention are tested, there's no way to know how big the risk to kids behind bars really is.
"This absolutely won’t stop at three kids and there needs to be a real, serious long-term plan in place," said Kamal.
A juvenile court spokeswoman declined a request for an interview, but said the court is no longer jailing youth charged with misdemeanors and non-violent felonies in response to the pandemic.
Kamal belives it's not enough. She wants to see more teens released from the facility and placed into alternative programs.