The Bridgeport Juvenile Detention Center.
The Bridgeport Juvenile Detention Center currently provides treatment for the state’s most vulnerable children.
The Bridgeport Juvenile Detention Center currently provides treatment for the state’s most vulnerable children.

To mitigate a potential COVID-19 outbreak in the state’s court houses, the Judicial Branch has suspended all civil and criminal jury trials for the next 30 days but is keeping all its courthouses open.

Those trials currently in progress and criminal trials made necessary because of a speedy trial motion are not subject to the suspension, nor are those matters the identified as “Priority 1 Business Functions.” This list includes criminal arraignments and domestic violence arraignments; juvenile detention hearings; family and civil orders of relief from abuse; civil protection orders; orders of temporary custody, orders to appear; terminations of parental rights, and more.

The protective measure comes as criminal justice agencies across the state are preparing for a potential spread of COVID-19 across Connecticut.

Chief State’s Attorney Richard Colangelo sent an email to all Division of Criminal Justice employees — which includes prosecutors in Connecticut’s 13 judicial districts — Thursday morning encouraging them to wash their hands, “use the tools we have to screen infractions to reduce the number of people coming to court,” exercise discretion in recommending pretrial bonds, handle case continuances administratively to move them from court as soon as possible and resolve cases as quickly as possible.

Melissa Farley, executive director of the Judicial Branch’s external affairs division, said in an email Tuesday that the department is considering alternative measures to accomplish their work.

Those measures could include relying on audio and video conferences in the court houses, regionalizing some court functions, and staggering the scheduling of dockets to reduce the number of people confined to a small courtroom space.

The branch is also responsible for the care of children in the state’s two juvenile detention centers, located in Hartford and Bridgeport. Farley said all juveniles are screened by nurses during intake, and all those with certain respiratory illnesses after admission are seen, screened and quarantined, if necessary.

Those who meet the right criteria for coronavirus will be tested and treated in accordance with federal and state policies, Farley said, while those who are suspected and confirmed to have the virus will be quarantined, even before test results are received. If a juvenile in custody tests positive for COVID-19, staff will wear personal protective gear when they’re in contact with the child.

Farley said judicial branch employees are contacting the juveniles’ family members to explain the signs of COVID-19, and encourage them not to visit their children if they are showing symptoms. Those who visit will be screened when they enter the detention center. Those who show signs of the illness and have a positive screen will be denied visitation.

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Kelan is a Report For America Corps Member who covers the intersection of mental health and criminal justice for CT Mirror. Before joining CT Mirror, Kelan was a staff writer for City Weekly, an alt weekly in Salt Lake City, Utah, and a courts reporter for The Bryan-College Station Eagle, in Texas. He is originally from Philadelphia.

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