‘If kids really want to run, they’re going to run,’ says detention official after 7 Philly teens escape

 An aerial view of VisionQuest's Lee Prep Program facility in Franklin, Pa. (https://www.google.com/maps/@41.3403776,-79.8210874,100m/data=!3m1!1e3)

An aerial view of VisionQuest's Lee Prep Program facility in Franklin, Pa. (https://www.google.com/maps/@41.3403776,-79.8210874,100m/data=!3m1!1e3)

Police are still searching for seven teenagers from Philadelphia who last week escaped from a juvenile detention facility for young offenders in Northwest Pennsylvania.

The facility is in Franklin, Pennsylvania, a woodsy area about 80 miles north of Pittsburgh. About 30 teenage boys from around the state are serving sentences there.

It is unclear why the seven fled the site operated by VisionQuest, a for-profit company which offers counseling at residential centers in states including Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland.

Beth Rosica, VisionQuest’s vice president for administration, said the company’s contract with Pennsylvania’s Department of Human Services requires that they keep doors unlocked. 

“If the kids really want to run, they’re going to run,” Rosica said. “We have runaways from time to time. Sometimes they’re more frequent than others.”

Part of VisionQuest’s rehabilitation programs incorporate practices derived from Native American culture.

“We do things like circles, where kids can share their perspectives. And there are some ceremonies that are borrowed from the American Indians,” Rosica said. 

The breakout, she said, has prompted an internal investigation examining the facility’s policies and procedures.

Authorities believe four of the teenagers are traveling in a stolen car.

Martin O’Rourke, a spokesman for Philadelphia’s First Judicial District, said local and state police are ramping up the search for the missing seven.

“The courts in Philadelphia are extremely concerned about the situation, and there is a warrant unit now, along with other law enforcement, who are actively trying to locate these juveniles,” O’Rourke said.

Mark Houldin with the Defender Association of Philadelphia is representing some of the teens.

“The thing that worries me is that if any of the kids are over 18 and they get picked up, they can be charged with a crime as an adult in that county,” he said.

Houldin would not comment on whether he thinks the teenagers pose a public safety threat.

There have been a number of escapes from the low-security residential facility over the years. The last one was reported in 2014.

“We’re going to keep a close eye on it and see what we can learn about hos this happened before making a more general assessment of what this means for our other clients, who might be there, or might be sent there in the future,” said Houldin.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.