UPDATED: Allegheny County’s juvenile detention contract valued at over $70 million

While the county seeks bids for “phase one” renovations, state documents indicate Allegheny County sought to privatize the former Shuman juvenile detention facility.

Excerpt from Allegheny County invitation for bids for "phase one" Shuman renovations, issued August 7, 2023.

Update (9/26/23): The Pittsburgh Independent and Pittsburgh Institute for Nonprofit Journalism have learned that Allegheny County’s contract with Adelphoi is valued at $73.2 million over five years. 

On September 15, the county announced it had reached an agreement with Latrobe-based Adelphoi to provide secure juvenile detention services for boys and girls in Allegheny County at the former Shuman Juvenile Detention site. 

County Council is slated to vote Tuesday on a motion which would direct Council’s solicitor to “file suit against the Allegheny County Chief Executive and/or the Fifth Judicial District Court of Common Pleas, seeking a declaratory judgment regarding conditional use of County-owned property, specifically the former Shuman Center site.”

This news follows a report from Pittsburgh Independent and Pittsburgh Institute for Nonprofit Journalism that the county has sought bids for round-the-clock renovations to ensure a single, 12-person pod will be available for use by year-end. The invitation for bids states that the county anticipates giving notice to proceed for construction on September 27.  

This is a developing story that will be updated as details emerge.

Allegheny County is seeking around-the-clock work to make sure a small part of the now-shuttered Shuman Juvenile Detention Center is renovated by year-end.

Who will operate it, and what comes next, the county and courts won’t say, but the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services says the county has received $15 million for fiscal year 2023-2024 Shuman renovations, and documents indicate the county intended to sell the facility to Adelphoi, a private, nonprofit juvenile detention and treatment provider based in Latrobe.

“Juvenile detention is a county responsibility,” said Brandon Cwalina, a spokesperson for the state Department of Human Services. “Allegheny County has indicated to DHS that plans for the remodeled center call for a new 60-bed unit that will only serve Allegheny County youth.”

The county also received $6 million for Shuman renovations in 2022-2023, according to state DHS.

The county’s invitation for bids, issued Aug. 7, calls for contractors to renovate a single housing unit on the facility, create a temporary administrative space and build a 16-foot high security fence among other construction at the Lincoln-Lemington facility. The state DHS closed the facility two years ago for “gross incompetence, negligence and misconduct,” according to the DHS closure order sent to former county manager Willy McKain Aug. 20, 2021.

Renovations are anticipated to begin Sept. 27, and the winning bidder is permitted to work evenings, weekends and holidays to ensure completion by Dec. 31–Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald’s last day in office.

No budget is specified in the proposal.

County spokesperson Amie Downs said there was nothing to add beyond the county’s invitation for bids. She would not comment on what subsequent phases of work might entail or who would operate the renovated portion of the facility.

“This has been a collaborative process which has been fully supported by the courts and administration,” she said. “There will certainly be additional information and detail released as this process moves forward, but I do not have anything further for you at this time.”

Joe Asturi, spokesperson for the Fifth Judicial District of Pennsylvania, said the same: “The current process has been a collaborative one with both the courts and the administration fully supporting this effort. Additional information and detail will be released as we move forward, but there is nothing publicly to share at this time.”

Shuman, which opened in 1974, was shut down in September 2021 by the Pennsylvania DHS and was operating on its fourth provisional license at the time it was revoked.

A DHS investigation in June 2021 found that a boy overdosed on heroin at Shuman and obtained the drug at the facility. Three doses of Narcan, a drug that reverses an overdose, were administered to the boy before he was revived, according to the DHS report.

Later that summer, a DHS inspection revealed “systemic medication administration errors” at Shuman, leading to the license revocation, which Allegheny County did not appeal.

Shuman’s closure was endorsed by county executive Fitzgerald, who said at the time “this is the best decision for taxpayers and for the youth that Shuman has served.”

Shuman Juvenile Detention Center pictured winter 2022. Photo: K. Gerard Painter Jr. via Pittsburgh Media Partnership.

Without a clear alternative in place since the closure, pre-adjudicated children have been held elsewhere in a patchwork system that has drawn criticism from members of the criminal justice system, including the judiciary, law enforcement and others. Approximately 80 pre-adjudicated youth are under electronic monitoring. Fifteen others are housed at secure facilities. Ten children have been detained out of state at Jefferson County Juvenile Detention Center in Steubenville, Ohio, since Shuman’s closure, according to Allegheny Courts.

While the county remains silent on who will operate the Shuman facility, documents acquired by Right to Know request indicate that on Jan. 18, County Manager Jen Liptak and other members of Allegheny County leadership met with state DHS representatives to discuss county plans and costs associated with the county’s former detention center.

In a Feb. 3 letter to Liptak, DHS Acting Deputy Secretary Natalie Bates wrote that it was shared during that January meeting “that Allegheny County is looking to sell the Shuman Center building to Adelphoi and will contract with Adelphoi for detention services moving forward.”

Bates’ letter puts the estimated cost to completely repair Shuman at $21.8 million.

In an email, DHS spokesperson Brandon Cwalina wrote that Allegheny County has received state funding for renovations associated with the Shuman Center, including $15 million for 2023-2024 and $6 million for 2022-2023.

Karyn Pratt, vice president of marketing at Adelphoi, did not respond to email or phone messages requesting comment on the DHS document. Previous news reports confirmed Adelphoi submitted a bid for the redevelopment authority’s original redevelopment proposal in late 2022, which gave “strong preference” to bidders who intended to redevelop the site for the “continued operation of a juvenile detention facility.”

County spokesperson Downs would not comment on the county’s discussion with PA DHS to sell the Shuman site, only to say “We are not contemplating the sale of the facility at this time.”

Allegheny County Council requested a 180-day pause in the original redevelopment efforts as part of a non-binding resolution passed in March, which also created a seven-member study group and requested a “full and transparent overview of the current needs of the County’s juvenile justice system within the context of a juvenile detention facility,” which the county controller’s office has commenced.

The study group never met, despite Council’s own resolution calling for bimonthly meetings. But prior to an Aug. 29 county council meeting, county manager Jen Liptak and Judge Kimberly Clark informally presented plans for Shuman to members of county council.

Clark expressed the need for a detention facility for pre-adjudicated youth in the county. Liptak stated the county was looking at having a “third-party” operate the facility, which would initially have capacity for 20 boys, but did not name Adelphoi or any other provider by name, according to multiple councilmembers in attendance.

“It was very vague,” said council President Pat Catena.

“I feel like this county works in a bubble,” Councilwoman Liv Bennett said. “The county has been trying to absolve itself from running the juvenile detention center. That’s why they closed it in the first place.”

Support for this collaborative reporting project comes from the Pittsburgh Media Partnership, The Grable Foundation, Staunton Farm Foundation, as well as the individual contributors to both the Pittsburgh Independent and Pittsburgh Institute for Nonprofit Journalism.

UPDATE: 9/1/2023, 9:45am: This story has been updated to clarify that ten children have been detained in Ohio since Shuman’s closure, not presently.

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He is a 2x 2023 Western PA Press Club Golden Quill award winner, in feature and business reporting. And a 3x finalist in the investigative reporting category.

He is a 2018 first prize winner in environmental reporting from the Keystone Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists for reporting on lead in Pittsburgh’s drinking water.

In 2022 and 2021, he was awarded a grant from The Gumshoe Group to support his investigative reporting.

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Brittany Hailer is an investigative journalist with a focus on incarceration and mental health. She is a Teaching Assistant Professor at the University of Pittsburgh. She is a 2022-2023 Fellow for the Law and Justice Journalism Project. Her work has been funded by The Pulitzer Center and Pittsburgh Media Partnership.

Her work has appeared in Sierra Club Magazine, NPR, Longform, Spotlight Pa, PublicSource and elsewhere.

Her memoir Animal You’ll Surely Become was published by Tolsun Books in 2018.