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Allegheny County to reopen Shuman Juvenile Detention Center this winter

Zoe Fuller
90.5 WESA

The Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas will contract with Adelphoi, a Latrobe-based private company that provides services to at-risk youth, to reopen and run its juvenile detention center this winter, county officials announced Friday.

"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. This is a crucial step toward creating a safer and more supportive environment for juveniles in the county," President Judge Kim Berkeley Clark said in a statement.

In a statement, court officials said renovations to the former Shuman Juvenile Detention Center will start in October and are slated to finish by year’s end. Each room will have a toilet and sink, with group shower facilities and space for dining, classrooms, indoor recreation and visitation.

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The county will retain ownership of the building in Pittsburgh’s Lincoln-Lemington neighborhood. Adelphoi will run the facility, which will initially have the capacity to hold 12 children, with plans for 60 when construction is complete.

“The severe shortage of juvenile detention beds is not unique to Allegheny County; it's a statewide issue,” said Joe Asturi, a spokesperson for the courts. “The court has been seeking a solution to this serious problem ever since Shuman Center closed nearly two years ago. Given the paramount importance of the safety and welfare of both juveniles and the community, further delays could not be considered.”

The decision comes two years after the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services revoked the county-run Shuman center’s license to operate. Shuman was operating on its fourth sequential provisional license at the time, having been cited for medical errors and other violations.

When the closure was first announced in August 2021, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald supported the Shuman closure, calling it “the best decision for taxpayers and for the youth that Shuman has served.”

His administration released a request for proposals for a private entity to run a detention center on the existing campus last year before announcing an effort to re-establish a county-run facility or to create a public-private partnership to manage it. The county opened a call for construction bids in August.

Some have opposed allowing a private company to run the county’s juvenile detention center, citing concerns about the quality of care given by for-profit companies and financial incentives to keep the facility full. Privately operated juvenile detention facilities were at the heart of a “Cash for Kids” kickback scandal in Luzerne County more than a decade ago.

County Council President Pat Catena said Friday he is “extremely disappointed” with the choice to allow a private company to run the facility.

“We had an opportunity to obtain input from a variety of sources in a collaborative fashion, in order to create a multifaceted juvenile justice center geared towards education, teaching skills and breaking the cycle of recidivism while individuals are still in the juvenile justice system,” Catena said in a statement. “I advocated for that outcome, and council passed a motion to form a working group that included the executive and courts to do exactly that.”

Instead, Catena said, Fitzgerald and the courts “have opted to embrace the cutting edge of decades-old thinking in order to warehouse kids in a center run by a for-profit business while pretending that this somehow improves outcomes for the children that will be treated as commodities for which a contractor is paid.”

Catena heads a council majority that has long been hostile to Fitzgerald. But his concern about turning over Shuman to an outside operator was echoed by Joe Rockey, the Republican candidate for county executive who hopes to replace Fitzgerald early next year — right around the time the center is expected to reopen.

“While I am in favor of establishing a juvenile detention and rehabilitation center, I do not think Allegheny County should outsource the custody of its children,” Rockey said in an emailed statement from the campaign.

Rockey’s Democratic opponent this fall, Sara Innamorato, said she was “shocked” by the announcement.

“We must prioritize getting the children out of the Allegheny County Jail and into a highly specialized, publicly run juvenile detention center focused on rehabilitation and reconnection to the community. The plan announced today doesn’t deliver on this urgent need,” she said in an emailed statement from her campaign.

“My administration will include the community’s voice and expert input when signing a multi-year contract worth tens of millions in taxpayer money so we can not repeat past mistakes.”

The two candidates have both offered their own vision for juvenile detention centers and for reforming juvenile justice more generally, if elected. It was not immediately clear on Friday how long the Adelphoi contract will last. Asturi declined to release contract terms, saying the “duration is in contract” and details will be shared after negotiations are complete.

Updated: September 15, 2023 at 6:07 PM EDT
Updated to include statements from county executive candidate Sara Innamorato’s campaign and a court spokesperson.
Julia Zenkevich reports on Allegheny County government for 90.5 WESA. She first joined the station as a production assistant on The Confluence, and more recently served as a fill-in producer for The Confluence and Morning Edition. She’s a life-long Pittsburgher, and attended the University of Pittsburgh. She can be reached at