Allegheny County announced plans on Friday to reopen its juvenile detention center two years after closing it due to failed state inspections. The county plans to contract with a private company, Adelphoi, to run the center, a decision that has already sparked backlash from advocates and county council members.
“I have said I am opposed to Adelphoi running anything because they’ve been involved in prior scandals,” said County Council President Pat Catena, who said he was “distraught” over the decision.
There have been multiple allegations in recent years of Adelphoi employees sexually abusing minors. The county has had multi-million-dollar contracts with Latrobe-based Adelphoi for years, for other youth services such as foster care.
Reached for comment on the allegations, an Adelphoi spokesperson said in an email that the group “is well-recognized as a quality organization with exemplary outcomes, and we stand behind our half-century track record of providing complex services in challenging situations with an unceasing eye toward our mission.”
A Friday press release from the county’s court system said that renovations to the now-closed Shuman Juvenile Detention Center facility in Pittsburgh’s Lincoln-Lemington neighborhood will begin in October and conclude by the end of the year. Adelphoi will begin operations with capacity for 12 youth at first, with space for 60 ultimately planned.
“Adelphoi has a proven track record as a leading and highly respected agency that provides all levels of trauma-informed and evidence-based [services] for delinquent and dependent children,” President Judge Kim Berkeley Clark said in the press release. “This is a crucial step toward creating a safer and more supportive environment for juveniles in the county.”
Catena said County Council members were not informed of the decision until five minutes before it was publicly announced.
Tanisha Long, a community organizer with the Abolitionist Law Center, was also alarmed at allegations against Adelphoi, saying “Allegheny County citizens have said they do not want a private company doing juvenile detention.”
Both Catena and Long questioned the timing of the decision, just months before a new county executive is elected and takes office in January.
“Presumably they’ve entered into a long-term contract with this group, so I wonder what the executive candidates think about this plan,” Catena said.
County Executive Rich Fitzgerald approved the Shuman Center’s closure two years ago instead of appealing the state’s order for the site to close due to repeated violations. Since then, law enforcement and elected officials repeatedly said the county needed the center open, blaming some of Pittsburgh’s violent crime on the fact that juvenile offenders were being sent home instead of to detention.
Fitzgerald remained publicly quiet on the issue, but his administration released a request for proposals in late 2022 seeking a private partner to operate the center. Numerous council members and advocates opposed that idea at the time.
“Private companies are out to make money and that’s not generally in the public’s interest,” County Controller Corey O’Connor said in an Oct. 24 interview.
Fitzgerald’s spokesperson Amie Downs said in an email Friday that the Adelphoi contract is being handled by the courts and that the administration is “supporting them in addressing the juvenile court placement needs that they have.”
“That responsibility lies with the courts, regardless of who is in the office of County Executive,” Downs said.
The candidates for county executive in this year’s election, one of whom will be responsible for the Shuman Center starting in January, both said they oppose the decision on Friday.
Republican nominee Joe Rockey, who has criticized the decision to close the center in the first place, said that while he’s in favor of opening a juvenile detention and rehabilitation center, “I do not think Allegheny County should outsource the custody of its children.”
Democratic nominee Sara Innamorato said the county needs a “small, highly specialized” juvenile detention center but that it should be “run by a public and unionized workforce” instead of a private contractor.
“Children in custody were harmed while at Shuman and we cannot have a repeat of those events,” Innamorato said in a statement, nodding to incidents that surfaced before the facility closed in 2021.
Court spokesperson Joe Asturi said he could not disclose how much the county will pay Adelphoi because the contract is still under negotiation.
Adelphoi in an email to PublicSource indicated that it “has already begun to foster relationships with organizations, schools, healthcare organizations and businesses” in advance of its enhanced role with Allegheny County.
Editor’s note: This story was updated to include additional reaction to the announcement and additional information provided by Adelphoi.
Charlie Wolfson is PublicSource’s local government reporter and a Report for America corps member. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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