Philly’s juvenile justice center workers take overcrowding plight to City Council

The Juvenile Services Center has a capacity of 180, but its current population fluctuates between 220 to 280 young people.

Philadelphia Juvenile Justice Services Center (City of Philadelphia)

Philadelphia Juvenile Justice Services Center (City of Philadelphia)

Workers at Philadelphia’s Juvenile Services Center met with members of City Council Thursday to highlight the facility’s critical overcrowding.

The JSC holds several hundred young people accused of crimes at the corner of 48th and Haverford in West Philadelphia. Workers say it’s overcrowded, and there’s a real potential for dangerous violence.

The conditions at the center are “vile,” JSC employee Ebony Richards told council. It’s “outrageous and dangerous” to keep the facility in such an overcrowded situation, she said, adding that she’s worried someone will end up dying at the facility.

The worker’s union representative David Robinson said overcrowding is so bad, simple fights turn into riots. He said earlier this month, “20 staff members were injured trying to break up a fight between multiple units inside the Philadelphia Juvenile Justice Service Center,” he said. “On certain days, there’s only four staff members that can report to work to watch over 240 individuals.”

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Counselor Karen Stokes said there were only 17 people working at a time when there should be 53. “We signed up to do this job, we want to do it, but we want to do it properly,” she said. She added that it was “disheartening” to deal with state officials who have given up on trying to find a way to resolve the overcrowding issue.

“There is no situation where it is acceptable for a facility built to house no more than 180 young people on a given day to have a regular census of 220 to 280 young people,” said Councilmember Jamie Gautier.

Councilmember Curtis Jones said he was considering a grand gesture to remind people the youth were wards of the state, asking the city solicitor how many laws it would break to take fill a bus with young people held at the center and drop them at Governor Tom Wolf’s mansion in Harrisburg. “Knock on the door, and say, ‘here’s your kids,’” Jones said. “The only reason we didn’t attempt it was because… they don’t deserve to be treated like that.”

City officials say negotiations are underway to resolve the situation.

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