By Kevin Deutsch
The city is gathering its ailing teenage prisoners at a single location: Horizon Juvenile Center in the Bronx.
Since April 1, the Melrose youth jail has been used to house all “symptomatic” teenage inmates, as part of the de Blasio administration’s COVID-19 youth jail consolidation plan, city officials said this week.
Most detainees without coronavirus symptoms, meanwhile, are being held at Crossroads Juvenile Center in Brooklyn, with four healthy prisoners remaining on a separate floor at Horizon, the officials said.
The city’s youth jails are jointly operated by the Administration of Children’s Services and Department of Correction.
Just one youth prisoner in the system is currently positive for coronavirus, officials said. Although it is not clear whether all symptomatic prisoners in the youth jails are regularly being tested for COVID-19, or whether any prisoners have been hospitalized outside the jails.
City officials said all youth prisoners have their temperatures checked each day. If any COVID-19 symptoms are identified, officials said, the prisoner is brought straight to Horizon’s Special Housing Unit, where they are closely monitored by health care workers.
At least three 3 employees at Horizon and 12 at Crossroads have tested positive for coronavirus, amid mass sick-time callouts and a shortage of janitorial staff to keep the jails as clean as necessary, union officials told The Chief-Leader.
Staffers at the facilities sanitize all surfaces on a regular schedule, city officials said, and both prisoners and jail staffers have access to hand sanitizer.
“The safety and health of the youth and the staff in our secure detention facilities is our number one priority,” ACS spokeswoman Chanel Caraway said in an statement announcing the consolidation plan. “After careful consideration, and in consultation with medical experts, we determined that this consolidation plan is the best way for us to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among youth and staff, as it will minimize exposure. In coordination with the Department of Health, as well as the health professionals who work at both sites 24/7, we’re also continuing to clean and sanitize all surfaces, utilize social distancing strategies, issue public health guidance and ensure youth have access to medical staff all times should they feel sick.”
A court-appointed federal monitorship of the city’s youth and adult jails – slated to end at Horizon sometime this year – has highlighted serious problems at the facility. Its practices during the coronavirus crisis have also been criticized by parents of teenage prisoners.
Oversight of inmate abuse in youth jails is performed, in part, by the New York State Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs, which is tasked with investigating reported incidents of youth prisoner abuse across the system.
With Sasha Gonzales