The Orleans Parish Juvenile Court has closed until April 2 due to exposure to coronavirus, after “contact with two individuals who tested positive,”  according to an order signed on Wednesday by Chief Judge Candice Bates Anderson.

Meanwhile, kids are continuing to be arrested and jailed.

According to Aaron Clark-Rizzio, the Executive Director of the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights (LCCR), which serves as the city’s juvenile public defender, that means there won’t be detention hearings for arrested and jailed juveniles until the court reopens. 

Normally, hearings need to take place within 3 days of an arrest, but a proclamation signed by the Governor last week suspended all legal deadlines.

“I have been informed that there will be no hearings, in person or virtual, until the court reopens,” he said. “The court is detaining children and then cutting off all avenues for their release, including the posting of bond.”

Judicial Administrator Ranord Darensburg confirmed that the court would not be holding detention hearings but said that all cases are reviewed by a judge, and any that “any releasable child is released.” 

Darensburg said that of the seven cases that had come in since Monday, most of them were either re-arrests or serious charges, and that none of them were releasable.

While other New Orleans courts closed Sunday, Juvenile Court was set to remain open and to operate according to guidelines set forth by the Louisiana Supreme Court (LASC) to protect against coronavirus.  Initial hearings for juveniles, known detention hearings, were meant to continue. 

On Monday, according to Clark-Rizzio, in-person detention hearings were still taking place. The court then planned to move to video conference hearings. That’s what has been happening for Criminal District Court first appearances since the court closed on Monday.

But since the Juvenile Court closure, Clark- Rizzio said, the plan to switch to video conferences has been abandoned. 

Last week, LCCR sent a letter to juvenile justice stakeholders urging a reduction in the number of children who are incarcerated, due to an increased risk of spreading coronavirus in a detention facility. Among their suggestions was for courts to hold detention hearings, even if other court operations were suspended. 

“These hearings should be held on the same day the child is arrested,” the letter read. “If that is not possible, they should be held the next day.”

“I think it is necessary that the courts have these hearings,” Rizzio said. “A child has a constitutional right to a detention hearing and we need to be doing these as quickly as we possibly can under the circumstances.”

This story was updated after publication with comments from the court’s Judicial Administrator.

Nicholas Chrastil

Nicholas Chrastil covers criminal justice for The Lens. As a freelancer, his work has appeared in Slate, Undark, Mother Jones, and the Atavist, among other outlets. Chrastil has a master's degree in mass...