PORTSMOUTH,Va. (WAVY) — Top prosecutors from across Virginia have joined criminal justice reform organizations in calling for many incarcerated youth to be released into their communities during the coronavirus pandemic.

Eight Virginia commonwealth’s attorneys, including Stephanie Morales of Portsmouth, wrote a letter on Wednesday to Virginia Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran.

The letter echoes the calls of criminal justice reform organizations — namely, RISE for Youth — in calling for the release of youth offenders from detention centers and prisons into their communities if they pose no risk to the safety of others.

RELATED: Criminal justice advocates ask for some of Virginia’s juvenile offenders to be allowed to shelter in place in communities

“We support and acknowledge the efforts that all have already taken to protect these vulnerable populations, but these efforts have already failed to keep the COVID-19 virus out of our states last remaining juvenile correctional center,” the letter states.

The letter also asks that officials from the Department of Juvenile Justice and Homeland Security implement recommendations for incarcerated youth that have been proposed by RISE for Youth, including:

  • Freeing youth offenders unless they are a safety risk to others
  • Removing youth who have COVID-19 symptoms or underlying health issues from detention facilities and prisons
  • Providing access to COVID-19 testing and health care while offenders are waiting for release
  • Opening phone access to allow offenders to get support from their families

“Statewide, we’re not doing enough when it comes to our response to COVID-19,” Steve Descano, Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney, wrote in the news release. “This outbreak is an opportunity for us to re-examine the way that we do things and come together across legal divides to find common ground.” 

Read the full letter here

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