When Fiona Guyton’s 17-year-old son started his court-ordered program at the Volusia Regional Juvenile Detention Center in early March, Guyton was already worried about having him away from home with the coronavirus spreading around the world and in the community.
On May 26, Guyton’s worst fear came true: A call from the Detention Center confirmed that her son Jarvis Carr Jr. had tested positive for COVID-19.
About two weeks earlier, workers at the center had told her a staff member had tested positive, and that her son and other children had been exposed.
Guyton, who is in regular contact with Carr Jr. via telephone, grew increasingly concerned when her son told her he was feeling sick, and that more people at the Detention Center had tested positive.
Her fear escalated after a call in late May.
“He called me a few days ago and said, ‘Mom, I feel like I am going to die in here,’” Guyton said.
As of 4 p.m. May 26, three more Detention Center staff members had been added to the list of confirmed cases at the Volusia facility; a total of six children have tested positive. There are 29 young adults currently at the center, and new admissions have been stopped until further notice, according to the Department of Juvenile Justice.
“I just want to see him,” Guyton said.
Guyton hasn’t seen her son since mid-March, when visitations were halted in juvenile facilities statewide by the DJJ.
No virtual visitation has been set up, Guyton said.
The Beacon asked DJJ officials about the situation at the Volusia County center, and was sent a statewide press release in response.
According to that press release, “Both detention centers and residential commitment programs have worked diligently to maintain regular telephone communication, and if feasible videoconferencing, between youth and their families.”
This is not Carr Jr.’s first time in trouble, Guyton said.
“He has not been a very good little boy,” Guyton said. “He is influenced easily by his quote unquote friends.”
But when he was sentenced to the juvenile justice program this time, she told him, “Go in there and redeem yourself. Learn something new. Get your diploma.”
This time, his program would last nine to 12 months.
But, since visitation procedures have changed, and screening measures in place at the center have failed, no teacher is visiting the children, Carr Jr. told his mother.
Although the DJJ press release describes screening measures being used at juvenile facilities, and although the staff was monitoring the children, once coronavirus breached the protections, it appears to have spread quickly in the facility.
On May 15, one staff member had a confirmed case. By May 26, the total number of confirmed cases at the facility, among staff and children, was 10.
While the Detention Center has kept in regular contact with Guyton, she said, they have given her little information.
“They told me that the children were going to be isolated,” Guyton said. “But I don’t think they were ever fully separated, fully in quarantine.”
Sometimes, all she has to go on is what her son says during their phone calls: that the children were given hand sanitizer, but not masks, and that the staff had been bringing out different “modules” to separate the children.
The staff told Guyton a nurse is monitoring the condition of the children.
“The nurse? What about the doctor?” Guyton said.
She especially worries about how the coronavirus might affect her son, because he has allergies.
“He wasn’t sick at all when he went in there, and now he’s got corona[virus] and I can’t see him, I can’t touch him, and now all y’all can tell me is that he is in quarantine?” Guyton said she told the staff worker who called her. “I’m not saying y’all are mistreating him, I’m just worried you don’t have the proper medical facilities to treat him if something goes wrong.”
She asked about whether her son would be able to go to the hospital and was told by a Detention Center supervisor, Guyton said, that he couldn’t send Carr Jr. to a medical facility, that that call must be made by a doctor.
She said she called the center May 27, and a member of the nursing staff told her that Carr Jr. did not have a fever and was doing fine. But she still doesn’t know when she will be able to speak with her son, or what procedures they have in place in case of an emergency.
For Guyton, who has never had problems with the detention center in the past, the lack of specific detail about her son's condition and about the medical services available at the center, is baffling and terrifying.
“That’s why it’s so hard for me. Why isn’t the priority to rush him to the hospital?” Guyton said. “It’s smooth sailing when someone there has a mental-health breakdown — they’re straight over to Halifax Behavioral.”
The Beacon asked DJJ questions about the specific procedure used when a child tests positive for COVID-19 or displays worrisome symptoms, and about what medical facilities are on-site at the Volusia location. The agency responded by sending the latest version of their regular COVID-19 press release, which is issued periodically and lists the number of infected staff and juveniles in each facility.
Guyton was not comforted by the DJJ’s response.
“I don’t feel any better. I don’t feel reassured that he is being taken care of, or any of the other kids. [The detention center] doesn't have capability to handle something of this magnitude,” Guyton told The Beacon. “I’m angry, hurt, and totally confused.”
“I just want the best for the kids and the staff. But the families need to be thoroughly informed.”
Since a version of this article was posted online, the DJJ has reached out and offered to connect Guyton with the director of the agency’s Office of Youth and Family Advocacy.
“I can certainly understand Ms. Guyton’s worry, and [we] do not want her to feel as though we have not been responsive,” DJJ Communications Director Amanda Slama wrote in an email.
The Beacon has requested a copy of the “pandemic plan” provided by the Department of Juvenile Justice to the Volusia Regional Juvenile Detention Center. This story will be updated if new information becomes available.