By Dick Hall-Sizemore
The Department of Juvenile Justice has announced that 25 juvenile offenders have tested positive for COVID-19. That is 12.5% of the population of 200 housed at the Bon Air Juvenile Correctional Center in Chesterfield County.
The announcement was made only after advocates for juveniles cited reports of numerous offenders in the facility as having tested positive.
The agency announced last week that one juvenile had announced positive. That announcement was obviously misleading, if not downright false. The medical director of the facility stated that 13 of those who had tested positive “have already been released from medical isolation per Virginia Department of Health (VDH) guidelines.” Those guidelines recommend a two-week quarantine. Obviously, at least those 13 had tested positive more than two weeks ago, but the agency neglected to include them in its earlier report.
There are two good aspects of the situation. First is that, according to the medical director, 21 of those testing positive have not shown any “outward” symptoms. The remaining four “had symptoms that were no more severe than a cold or flu.” Secondly, the agency can be commended for taking aggressive action after the first offender tested positive. In the beginning, they had been screening offenders, including taking their temperatures. Any offender with a fever of 100.3 degrees or higher was tested, per the CDC guidelines. After the first positive test, they went to twice-daily screenings and testing those with a fever between 99 and 100 degrees. According to the nurse manager, that is when more positive cases began to show up.
What cannot be condoned is the lack of transparency. Valerie Boykin, the agency director, explained the secrecy as being necessary to “protect the privacy of our underage residents.” That is nonsense. Releasing the number of inmates testing positive would not have jeopardized the privacy of any individual juvenile. Besides, she now says, “As the number of cases has risen, DJJ believes the privacy of individual residents can be protected.”
Likely, not wanting to add ammunition to the general clamor by many advocacy groups to release incarcerated juveniles in the face of the pandemic was the reason for not reporting the number of juvenile offenders testing positive.
I do not know whether Boykin’s superiors, the Secretary of Public Safety and the Governor, knew that a large number of juvenile offenders had tested positive. If they were not informed, she should be fired. If they had been informed, they need to be held to account.