Shuman Center in Pittsburgh closing in September after license revocation

PITTSBURGH — The Shuman Juvenile Detention Center will close in September after the facility’s operating license was revoked last week.

The center will officially close on Sept. 18 after the license was revoked on Aug. 20.

“At my recommendation, we are moving forward to close the facility. The licensing at the facility has been an ongoing issue,” said Allegheny County manager William McKain. “Over the last six years, we have put additional resources into the facility, supported new leadership and efforts by the professionals running the center, and continued to work with the courts and the state on alternatives. Yet, we continued to see violations that were only exacerbated during the pandemic with staffing challenges.”

According to a news release, there have been ongoing issues at the facility for years related to violations, and the facility is currently operating on its fourth sequential provisional license with that status being put in place in December 2015.

Workers at location for the county to appeal the decision, while looking into finding other county jobs.

“We are very strong , very intelligent workers. We are here for the kids. Now we don’t know where these kids are going to go,” Youth care worker Stan Drummond said.

Some employees have invested most of their lives into this facility.

“We have around 85 to 90 members there and they will be left positionless,” SEUI Local 668 Business Agent Al Smith said.

Smith said his union members had no idea they were so close to losing their jobs.

“We were blindsided, we feel by the department of human services,” Smith said.

The facility opened in December 1974. Shuman is licensed to hold up to 120 residents. As of Tuesday, there were 12 children housed at the center. The residents’ average age is 16, and the ages of the youth currently in the facility range from 14-20.

The facility and its staff provide services to juveniles in their custody, including education (provided by Allegheny Intermediate Unit), health services, social services, religious services, and recreation.

“I have accepted the recommendation from County Manager McKain to close the facility,” said County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. “His decision was based on an ongoing review of Shuman’s day-to-day operations and challenges with licensure, and I trust his opinion. Ultimately this is the best decision for taxpayers and for the youth that Shuman has served.”

Future steps will depend on the Courts and the state, but kids currently at Shuman can be transferred to other facilities that the state operates, including facilities in other counties. The average stay at Shuman is less than 12 days, so many of the juveniles would have been transferred elsewhere or released prior to the closure. The Courts are aware of the announcement and will be making juvenile commitments to other facilities moving forward.

“Unfortunately, the decision by the state was provided to the media before there was even any opportunity to notify the leadership and staff at Shuman about this decision,” McKain continued. “Obviously, with the revocation of the license, these jobs have all been eliminated. We are working with unions to address the employee issues resulting from this mandated closure.”

Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner issued a statement saying:

“Giving up on the Shuman Center and removing residents to facilities likely to be farther from and less accessible to their families and communities is a last resort that the County should be continuing to work to avoid. Juvenile detention is an extremely challenging environment, and standards are rightfully exacting. As in all institutional settings, Shuman employees have been working in very difficult circumstances during the pandemic. With support from the administration, I believe the work toward a better and fully compliant facility could and should continue.

“I am deeply concerned that Shuman’s closure could result in more juveniles being placed in the County Jail while awaiting adjudication. This would be dangerous for many reasons, especially during a pandemic. Relocating residents to other facilities is also likely to be complicated by the present circumstances. How negative consequences can be avoided and how this extremely impactful decision was arrived at should have been topics of public discussion and consideration, not made in secret and announced through the press before any stakeholders were notified. Removing youth placed in our care from the County is a decision of great consequence that deserved due input and consideration, as is summarily letting go dozens of extremely dedicated workers. The County must hear out those concerned by this decision, and at minimum should advocate strongly for the state to operate Shuman or another facility in the County and for Shuman employees to be maintained there.”