On April 9, 2020, FREE ALABAMA MOVEMENT released a Press Statement calling for the release of all children being held in Alabama’s Juvenile Detention Facilities.
F.A.M. issued this demand in wake of the COVID 19 pandemic and in light of the fact that there was no public discourse concerning the fate of these children or details about their safety.
In response to our efforts, the executive director of the Alabama Department of Youth Services, Steven P. Lafreniere, issued a public letter four days later on April 13, 2020, detailing a few details of ADYS’s COVID 19 plan of action.
Noticably missing from this public letter by Mr. Lafreniere is any plan on the part of ADYS to release any of these children from custody. In addition, this letter fails to identify how ADYS plans to deal with children who are especially vulnerable to COVID 19 due to pre-existing mental and/or physical condition.
In response to one of the many questions that we posed in our Press Statement (please review these questions in our Press Statement), Mr. Lafreniere states the number of phone calls allowed to each child will increase, but he falls to state how many calls are currently allowed, or what that amount will be increased to? Furthermore, Mr. Lafreniere states that “all staff wear a mask and practice social distancing from youth to the degree practical”, but he Mr. Lefreniere doesn’t mention what efforts are currently in place to provide our children with PPEs or whether their environment will allow them to practice government mandated social distancing. The letter from Mr. Lefreniere does not allay any of our concerns about our children in custody and does nothing to assure us of their safety.
Also, since FREE ALABAMA MOVEMENT released our Press Statement, other organizations have joined this important conversation. “The Youth Advocacy” Programs, Inc. has issued a letter to Governor Ivey, and FAMs Queen Team has initiated a Call campaign to demand that these children be released.
At this time of uncertainty, we can only expect this situation to get worse and more dangerous for children in juvenile detention facilities, which is why the only remedy is their release. The State of Florida recently reported 4 cases of children testing positive for COVID 19. The plan outlined by Director Lafreniere mentions that “screening” is being done on personnel daily, but fails to state what type of screening is being done, or whether any staff member has been tested or quarantined. As we have learned, COVID 19 is asymptomatic in some carriers, so testing – not screening- is critical.
F. A. M. also wants to remind everyone that these children are not criminals and they do not have criminal convictions. When Director Lafreniere says that regular cleaning and sanitizing will be done, we have to wonder who will be responsible for this vital labor because uncompensated child labor is illegal. In the immigration detention facilities, multiple class action lawsuits are pending because the people in those facilities, none of whom had felony convictions, were performing labor without compensation. Juvenile facilities are no different. Children are required to work in the kitchen, lawn care, trash details and other functions without being paid. This definitely will not continue to be allowed on our watch.
The focus amid this crisis has to remain on the preservation of the lives of our children, not preservation of children in detention facilities for deliquent acts. The public letter from Mr. Lafreniere does not indicate that the lives of our children detained in ADYS custody are being prioritized over continued detention. As such, FREE ALABAMA MOVEMENT will intensify our demand for release as we continue to seek answers and transparency during this crisis. This response from ADYS needs to be independently verified and, since these children are no longer allowed visitation with their families, volunteers and attorneys needs to be allowed in to speak privately with these children without fear of retaliation. We will update this post and we look forward to hearing from you about your efforts in this matter.
FREE ALABAMA MOVEMENT
Please contact Director Steven P. Lafreniere @ 334-215-3800 to convey your concerns.
Alesia Allen, Executive Assistant to Director, 334-215-3836 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.