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Philadelphia is suing the state over its negligence in the Juvenile Detention Center chaos.
Philadelphia is suing the state over its negligence in the Juvenile Detention Center chaos. Photo: Dan Parlante/Pexels

Philly sues state over Juvenile Detention Center chaos

The lawsuit filed Friday, Oct. 21 is against the PA Department of Human Services and Acting Secretary of Human Services Meg Snead.

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A day after workers and counselors of the Juvenile Detention Center in West Philly went to City Council to report unaddressed problems at the facility, Philadelphia filed a lawsuit against the state for its neglect to address the issues presented, which include understaffing, overcrowding, insufficient beds, and incidents of violence. 

This comes after Mayor Jim Kenney’s office said on Thursday that they were “looking at all options,” in regards to whether they would be filing the suit. The lawsuit is the final nail in the coffin after a nearly three-year back-and-forth regarding the facility between the city and PA Governor Tom Wolf’s Administration. 

“For too long, the Commonwealth has been derelict in this fundamental duty,” said Vanessa Garrett Harley, Deputy Mayor for the Office of Children and Families. “The City, in good faith, pleaded with state officials to fulfill their obligations and avoid the crisis we are now seeing at the Philadelphia Juvenile Justice Services Center (PJJSC).” 

According to a press release from the Mayor’s Office released on Monday, Oct. 24, Philly chose legal action towards the state to address the issues at the Juvenile Justice Services Center (PJJSC), which has suffered from overcrowding and understaffing for months. The lawsuit was filed in a state court on Friday, and pertains to the city-run facility that is intended to temporarily detain children ages 10 to 17 who are awaiting their cases to be heard in court. 

The lawsuit is directed at the PA Department of Human Services and its Acting Secretary of Human Services Meg Snead, as the city looks to force the issue for the state to fulfill its legal responsibilities and take custody of 74 youth.

The city blames the state PA Department of Human Services for not committing to its legal obligation in regards to the youth awaiting transfers to state facilities, which as it stands currently, 74 juveniles have not been transferred despite already receiving sentences. 

DHS released a statement on the matter on Thursday following the reports to city officials, saying they were not neglecting the youth because of their own overcrowding problems at state-run facilities and that it would need more funding to fix the problems.

“As months passed, unfortunately, no meaningful action was taken on their part and empty promises were made. Overcrowding makes it more difficult for staff to provide programming and services and jeopardizes the City’s duty to protect the health, safety, and welfare of youth in juvenile custody. The City cannot wait any longer and now seeks necessary relief before the Commonwealth Court to mandate the Commonwealth to take custody of the committed youth,” said Garrett Harley. 

The center in West Philly is a 184-bed facility currently housing over 220 city youth with some as young as 10 years old. The facility is the only Juvenile Detention Center in the city and was a replacement for the old facility, the Youth Study Center on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. 

The PA DHS has not responded to the lawsuit as of Monday, Oct. 24.

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