Delco seeking public input on plans to reestablish juvenile detention center

Delaware County officials want the public to attend one of their upcoming community meetings as it pushes to build a new juvenile detention center.

The exterior of Delaware County Juvenile Detention Center.

The exterior of Delaware County Juvenile Detention Center. (Google Maps)

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Delaware County officials are seeking public input as the county continues its quest to reestablish a juvenile detention center.

The county’s Department of Juvenile Detention and Rehabilitation is inviting the public to share their thoughts and opinions on plans for the new facility in upcoming community collaboration meetings.

“Most importantly, we want to hear about solutions. We want to hear about if there are any particular programs that they’re aware of that they believe are effective. Again, we believe folks who are closest to the problems are closer to the solutions. So we want to hear about if there’s a community member who’s doing great work,” said David Irizarry, the county’s superintendent of juvenile justice services.

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Community members will also have the chance to meet the new leaders of the juvenile justice system in person.

The first community collaboration meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Feb. 23 at Mount Zion AME Church in Darby. The second meeting will be held at 6 p.m. on Feb. 27 at Anson Banquet Room in Chester.

County officials plan to schedule two more.

Irizarry has been in his role since 2022. Before he took the job, he worked for the Philadelphia Mayor’s Office of Violence Prevention. He said he made the job change in an effort to “help young people who are going through tough times.”

“I think my goals for the long term, again, is to have a facility that not only provides a service of secure care for only the kids who need that — and that is probably a very small percentage, 1 or 2% — but also provide services in terms of prevention of reentry that essentially is going to keep the kid out of the system,” Irizarry said.

While there are certainly supporters of the plan, Delco has also faced steady public opposition to reestablishing a juvenile detention center, because of the conditions that led to the Delaware County Juvenile Detention Center in Lima closing its doors in the first place: allegations of physical, sexual, and psychological abuse.

Although a grand jury uncovered even more disturbing details, their report did not shed any light on their belief over whether the facility should reopen — or in this case, be rebuilt.

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Irizarry said county officials are committed to working with the community on creating a new center with a new model that is focused on “much more than detention.”

“We understand that our board of manager meetings aren’t ideal time or an ideal location just in terms of making sure that communities that are most representative have an opportunity to talk,” he said.

That’s why officials chose to hold the community collaboration meetings.

Councilmember Kevin Madden said there won’t be trust unless there is community involvement every step of the way.

“Context really matters. And when you’re dealing with a system, a government that has earned centuries of distrust from communities and specifically economically disadvantaged ones, communities of color about how their youth are treated by the justice system, we have to ensure that there is buy-in to what we’re doing,” Madden said.

In addition to the meetings, Delco officials have also asked the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Children’s Law and Policy to conduct a community survey of young people who have been impacted by the juvenile justice system in the county.

“A lot of what is recommended and what is said by young people as well as community members is going to be documented and that’s going to be part of our decision-making process,” Irizarry said.

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