The number of people in American prisons has increased by a whopping 500% since 1982—but not because the crime rate has spiked. Rather, policy change and sentencing guidelines are to blame for what can only be described as a serious overcrowding problem in our nation's carceral facilities.
That number describes adults (or younger people who were tried and sentenced as adults), but juvenile detention centers face the same issue. Now, the city of Philadelphia is suing the state of Pennsylvania in a bid to ameliorate this situation, which they say is becoming more and more dangerous.
Too Many Teenagers, Not Enough Cells
At the heart of the issue is the inadequacy of Philly's juvenile holding facility. Although they were designed to temporarily house 184 offenders awaiting court proceedings, the facility is currently over capacity, with 223 offenders aged 10 to 17. Of those, 74 have already been sentenced to other state facilities to participate in rehabilitation programs and are awaiting transfer.
The city is asking state officials to take action by moving the juvenile offenders to a private or public facility contracted for the purpose or even opening a new one that can handle the overflow. Pennsylvania state employees at the Department of Human Services say their hands are tied because the state-run facilities are also at capacity.
Over 20 juveniles are bunking down on mattresses on the admission area's floor, which was obviously not designed for housing purposes. This overcrowding, combined with a particularly inconvenient staffing shortage, means the underage offenders are no longer permitted to leave their housing area for meals, schools, or recreational periods.
What Will Happen Next?
According to the lawsuit, the city of Philadelphia has been asking the state's DHS for assistance in resolving the issue for nearly three years. Meanwhile, conditions have been worsening. In October, the juvenile offenders overpowered the center's staff, forcing their way into an off-limits area. Over a dozen employees, along with one or more residents, sustained injuries.
Only time will tell how the legal action will play out. No matter what happens, the juveniles are already facing setbacks that could substantially impact their path forward—and make recidivism more likely. The 75 offenders who have been sentenced are still awaiting their transfers, and unfortunately, the months they must spend in this detention facility will not count as time served.
Nipping This Issue In the Bud
No parent wants their child to enter the prison system, but the prospect is even more alarming given the current conditions at this and other holding facilities. If your son or daughter has made a foolish mistake that landed them in hot legal water, the best recourse is to mount a strong defense.
That's where attorney Joseph D. Lento and his team at the Lento Law Firm come in. Click here to tell us about your case, or call us at 1-888-535-3686 today.