11 Investigates: Exclusive interview with agency hired to run Shuman Juvenile Detention Center

PITTSBURGH — Allegheny County’s only juvenile detention center closed in September 2021 after the state revoked the license for repeated safety violations.

But the facility will soon have a new operator.

Channel 11 Chief Investigator Rick Earle sat down for an exclusive interview with the CEO of the non-profit agency hired to run the facility.

Adelphoi CEO Nancy Kukovich, who has run the non-profit for 13 years, told Earle that the newly renovated Shuman Juvenile Detention Center in the city’s East End will be ready to open in May.

She said the facility will have 12 beds available to begin with, but will expand to 48 more beds in the future for a total of 60 beds.

Juveniles will spend anywhere from 72 hours to 15 days in the facility.

Kukovich gave Earle a tour of the headquarters in Latrobe, where there’s a school and a secure residential treatment facility that houses 40 juvenile offenders, along with an indoor gym and an outdoor basketball court and fields.

The agency that provides services to youth in nearly every county in Pennsylvania began 50 years ago in Latrobe.

Today, they provide education, treatment and rehabilitation to 2,500 youth every year.

She said the goal at Shuman will be to get teens the help they need to stay out of trouble.

“We’re trying to get them back on with schools. We do a lot of assessments. What happened before? Why are you here? What kinds of things would really help a judge figure out what’s the next step for you,” said Kukovich.

Kukovich also defended the renovations to Shuman which could cost the county more than $40 million once the facility is expanded to 60 beds.

“It was built 50 years ago, major renovations, not like installation, new windows, plumbing, wiring and all kinds of electronic monitoring devices,” said Kukovich.

The new facility will be broken into five pods of 12 beds each.

She said surveillance cameras will cover every inch of the facility and all of the doors will be electronically controlled.

She said the facility will provide meals, health care, education, rehabilitation and treatment.

And she said unlike the old facility, juveniles won’t be allowed to congregate with others assigned to different pods.

She said that led to repeated trouble in the old facility.

“Gangs passed in the hallway. There were lots of fights and altercations and so what we’re trying to do with Shuman now is safety, safety, safety,” said Kukovich.

Kukovich also addressed a class action lawsuit accusing Adelphoi of a pattern of “negligent staffing and failing to enact safety measures to protect children.”

She said Adelphoi’s attorneys have called the lawsuit, “poorly constructed” and plan to fight it.

Earle: Do you deny the allegations?

Kukovich: Some of the allegations, some of the kids in the lawsuit are kids that we’ve had at Adelphoi, but we do deny the allegations. We do everything we can to protect kids.

Kukovich also pointed to a recent study by Allegheny County that indicated that 250 or so juveniles should have gone to Shuman since the closing but were released because there was no place to put them.

She said ten are now in prison and five were killed on the streets.

“Those kids are just cycling through again and again, which is frustrating law enforcement. We’ve got to get that thing moving again and part of that is getting kids who are using guns off the streets,” said Kukovich.

She also believes the reopening of the county’s only juvenile detention center will improve safety in the communities.

“It’s going to allow law enforcement to focus on calming things down, getting those kids with guns off the streets, and I think we are going to see a big change, people are going to feel more comfortable,” said Kukovich.

In addition to the renovation costs, Allegheny County is also paying Adelphoi $73 million over five years to run the facility.

But there could be a hiccup in the plan.

Allegheny County Council has filed a civil lawsuit against the County Executive’s office, claiming they should have had a say in the contract.

Earle has learned that council members aren’t necessarily opposed to the reopening, but some said they should have been involved in the process since it involves a county-owned building and property.

A judge held a hearing on that lawsuit last week but has yet to rule on it.

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