Mental health of every child in detention must be guaranteed so they can successfully reintegrate into society. The state must aid youth who go through its detention centers with positive, developmentally appropriate care.

Recently, the dangerous situation unraveling inside the Department of Correction and Rehabilitation (DCR) of Puerto Rico came to our attention, where several young people have attempted suicide.

The pandemic has exacerbated the situation in various parts of the world and even reduced health and education services within the prisons that should assist the emotional well-being of the people inside of them. Nonetheless, this is not an excuse to neglect the children detained in these facilities; people who must have their human rights guaranteed.

Our Response to COVID-19:

“Even before extreme measures were taken due to COVID-19, the system tells these young people that they are disposable. It should not come as a surprise that they now believe that to be true”, Douglas Keillor, executive director of Juvenile Justice Advocates International commented in this regard.

“The government has completely failed to protect these children from a mental crisis that was totally predictable as one of the effects of the pandemic during their confinement. Radical and immediate measures are urgently needed to save live”, added Mr. Keillor.

Mrs. Athelyn Jiménez Emmanuelli, a lawyer specialized in juvenile justice matters, said in an interview for Microjuris media that the services to the adolescent population of the detention centers should not be stopped or hindered under any circumstances.

She also mentioned during this interview that from the beginning of July to the end of September, a total of 23 young people – out of a population of almost 100 minors in custody – were hospitalized for threatening against their own health and remarked that not even one case of a child attempting against themselves should have occurred to figure out that something bad was happening with these teenagers.

That is why, as an organization, we demand that the authorities act accordingly and expeditiously, so that the children under their protection feel assured that the authorities must and will provide them the help necessary to prevent irreparable tragedy.

Call to action:

  • The United States District Court for the District of Puerto Rico orders the release of youth whose mental health cannot be safeguarded in this detention center. 
  • The authorities immediately implement mental health measures to protect all the youth including – access to in-person counselors, access to comprehensive educational and recreational programming, suicide prevention protocols in accordance with local, federal and international standards, access to regular family visits including in-person visits with social distancing, video calls and regular phone calls free of charge. 
  • If the authorities are unable to guarantee these measures, the United States District Court for the District of Puerto Rico, should order monitoring of the facility utilizing internationally-recognized standards to guarantee the protection of youth (such as the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Juvenile Detention Facility Assessment).
  • If authorities are unable to guarantee the safety of youth in this facility, the United States District Court for the District of Puerto Rico should close the facility in the best interest of the youth.