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Juvenile Detention: The Philadelphia Alternative

NCJ Number
Pennsylvania Progress Volume: 9 Issue: 4 Dated: July 2003 Pages: 1-12
Date Published
July 2003
12 pages

This issue of Pennsylvania Progress focuses on juvenile detention and its alternatives in Philadelphia.


The article begins by recounting the history of the Youth Study Center in Philadelphia, which is Philadelphia’s only secure juvenile detention center. Built in 1953, the detention center is chronically overcrowded and often described as a “scary” place. The Youth Study Center has 1 secure bed for every 3,450 Philadelphia juveniles and the average length of stay in the Youth Study Center has plummeted to just 6.9 days during the first part of 2003. Locked doors and barred windows have largely replaced the type of individualized supervision and nonsecure care originally conceived of for Philadelphia’s juvenile detention program. The article recounts the case of Santiago v. City of Philadelphia, a 1974 Federal class action lawsuit filed on behalf of 15 juveniles detained in the Youth Study Center. The lawsuit alleged unconstitutional confinement conditions in the facility, most notably severe overcrowding. The lawsuit provided the motivation for city leaders to clean up Philadelphia’s juvenile detention mess. The article outlines the struggle to reform the city’s juvenile detention plan, focusing on the partnership between the Family Court and the Department of Human Services. Philadelphia’s many in-home juvenile supervision alternatives to detention, the broadest such program in the State, are described, including the Pre-Hearing Intensive Supervision program and the Detention Diversion Advocacy Program. Despite many improvements, shortfalls still remain in the juvenile detention program, most notably within the assessment of risks to inform detention decisionmaking. While Philadelphia has made vast improvements and could serve as a model of how justice reform should operate, improvements are still warranted and continue to be assessed as the reform process in Philadelphia continues. 14 Notes

Date Published: July 1, 2003