City of Philadelphia v. Department of Human Services
In October 2022, the City of Philadelphia sued the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services over overcrowded and understaffed conditions at the Philadelphia Juvenile Justice Services Center (PJJSC). In November 2022, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania issued an injunction order intended to relieve overcrowding.
Despite this, overcrowding has persisted unabated for months. The PJJSC is now approximately 30% or more over-capacity, with dozens of children sleeping on mattresses on floors in windowless rooms and spaces. On June 9th, the City of Philadelphia filed an application to modify the Commonwealth Court’s previous injunction, requesting several specific forms of relief to alleviate the overcrowding.
Juvenile Law Center and Disability Rights Pennsylvania filed an amicus brief in support of neither party in response to the application, arguing that the current overcrowding will continue unless measures are taken to substantially limit the use of custody and confinement for Philadelphia’s youth. Our brief emphasized the many ways that out-of-home placements cause grave harm to children. We further argued that Pennsylvania’s overuse of confinement disproportionately harms youth of color and youth with disabilities, and that alternatives to detention are available and effective.
Recognizing that overcrowding at the PJJSC has reached “crisis-level proportions,” the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania directed DHS to take custody of 26 young people who are currently housed at the PJJSC and are awaiting placement. Further, if after 30 working days the PJJSC remains over capacity and youth are still sleeping on mattresses on the floor in non-residential areas, the Court ordered that DHS must accept as many youth as possible into its treatment facilities, until the PJJSC reaches its licensed capacity. The Court also strongly urged DHS to reevaluate its management of the waitlist for youth awaiting placement, including considering whether to prioritize youth who are housed in overcrowded detention facilities such as the PJJSC.
Kate Burdick, Marsha Levick, Christopher Lin, Malik Pickett, Jasmin Randolph-Taylor
Tiffany Faith, Marissa Lariviere