Legal Aid Society sues ACS to release juveniles amid coronavirus crisis

The city’s child welfare agency was sued Thursday by a group that is seeking the release of at least 10 teens from juvenile facilities around the city amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Legal Aid Society filed a lawsuit against the Administration for Children’s Services, the organization that oversees the incarceration of most juvenile delinquents, seeking the release of all teens who are detained throughout the city and under ACS’s control.

The teens, age 13 through 17, share tight communal spaces that don’t allow for the necessary social distancing and don’t have appropriate sanitation standards to curb the spread of the virus, the Manhattan Supreme Court lawsuit filed late Wednesday says.

“There is no indication that ACS has even taken such risk-mitigation measures as ensuring all staff and youth have access to cleaning and sanitation supplies and giving youth instruction on how to properly wash their hands and sanitize all surfaces throughout the day,” the suit charges.

Also, ACS has blocked family and friends from visiting the teens while they are in the facilities which takes a toll on the mental state of the kids during inherently uncertain times, the court papers say.

And as it is becoming clear that young people can get very sick from COVID-19, it is all the more important that they be released, the court documents say.

Legal Aid points out that three ACS workers at these facilities have tested positive for the virus.

“Our young clients are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, and​ can safely be managed at home with their families,” Legal Aid’s Dawne Mitchell said in a statement. “We call on the City to grant their immediate release back to their families and communities.”

Legal Aid has filed several lawsuits over the past week seeking the release of hundreds of vulnerable inmates throughout the city and from Rikers Island as the virus has begun spreading in jails.

At least 75 inmates and 37 Department of Corrections employees have tested positive for the virus as of Wednesday evening.

The city has said that it plans to release 300 inmates throughout the city, while a few dozen have already been released.

ACS deferred comment to the city’s Law Department.

Nicholas Paolucci, a rep with the Law Department said in a statement, “We’ll have to review the particulars of the lawsuit and respond accordingly. Health and safety is a priority of the city at this time.”

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