man in black long sleeve shirt raising his right hand

Originally published here.

Saturday, June 6th 2022, marked five years since Kalief Browder tragically passed away. Kalief was held in solitary confinement for two of the three years (700 total days) he was wrongly imprisoned at Rikers Island. This anniversary is a stark reminder of the harmful effects of solitary confinement. From the ACLU, solitary confinement can cause extreme psychological, physical, and developmental harm. In most juvenile detention facilities, solitary confinement has been a method utilized in attempts to prevent the spread of coronavirus. At its peak, the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services (DYRS) in Washington, DC held 55 residents in solitary confinement. While facilities attempt to protect other residents from infection, it is important to remember how damaging solitary confinement can be. No juvenile should be held within a cell for 23 hours a day and DYRS needs to take the steps necessary to release these residents immediately.

Juvenile facilities’ shared environments are the alternative to solitary confinements; however, the 6 feet minimum recommendation, per the CDC, is impossible to maintain within these facilities due to space limitations. Additionally, the residents within facilities are interacting with staff daily, who are able to return home and back into the community every day. These interactions with staff can increase the resident’s risks, which is in conjunction with the introduction of daily juvenile intakes.

In addition to the health risks of a shared environment, staff interactions, and daily intakes, one must not forget the resources that are not being offered during this time. Classes are not being offered, phone call times are limited, visitation has been ended, and counseling services have not been offered for an extended period of time. A child needs to have social interaction, it is integral to their development, and this is impossible during this time. The lack of counseling is only compounding the mental health problems brought on by solitary confinement, with no end in sight.

In an effort to display the number of cases within DC, the following charts document the relationship between DYRS staff and resident COVID-19 cases. The data is from the Public Safety Agency from and was collected from March 30th, 2020 through June 7th, 2020.

As shown, the amount of both staff and residents who have tested positive have been trending upwards since March, with a recent plateau in both cases. Interestingly, the amount of staff and residents in quarantine due to COVID-19 are trending in different directions. In mid-April, the amount of staff in quarantine began to drop, while the number of residents in quarantine began to increase. Lastly, and possibly the most concerning, there have only been 13 residents returned to the general population after recovery. These numbers need to be explored further, as they could be indicative of long-term solitary confinement periods.

We must take into account the mental trauma that this inflicts onto juveniles and we must take steps to release juveniles from these facilities. All new admissions to these facilities need to end immediately; these admissions pose a tremendous risk to not only residents within facilities, but also staff members as well. Additionally, the juveniles being held within facilities need to be released immediately; especially juveniles within facilities with high rates of COVID cases.

In summary, I implore readers to watch Kalief Browder’s story, Time: The Kalief Browder Story, and never stop saying his name. While we are debating wearing masks and taking steps to return to restaurants, please think of those juveniles sitting in cells without access to human contact, let alone friends and loved ones. Call your local representatives (all information is listed below) and speak out for these kids. Demand that these kids are released. Additionally, if you are able, New Beginnings and Youth Services Center both have Amazon wish list, available from the Georgetown Law Center.