Overcrowding Causes 'Unsafe and Unsanitary' Conditions for Youth In Philadelphia Jail

Emma Camp, Reason •
JJSC street view

One Philadelphia, Pennsylvania juvenile jail is keeping youth in overcrowded, filthy conditions. According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, the situation has grown so dire that the city has now requested that a judge hold the state in contempt of court for failure to address the crisis.


Legal documents claim that the facility, which is built to house 184 juveniles, reached a peak of 242 this June. As a result, at least 30 children were forced to sleep in "mattresses on the floor in the admissions area," or "in physically crowded cells with no windows." Violence in the facility also reportedly increased. 


The city claims that the overcrowding at the Juvenile Justice Services Center (JJSC) was caused by the state's inability to transfer youth who have been sentenced to prison into other facilities. The JJSC is a jail, meaning that children are only meant to be held there pre-trial and immediately post-sentencing.


According to legal filings, the city previously had contracts allowing it to send youth to serve their sentences at one of several private facilities around the county. However, according to the Inquirer, abuse at those facilities forced Philadelphia to remove youth housed there. Struggles to find other facilities that will take sentenced children have contributed to the current overcrowding crisis.


About the Expert

Marsha Levick co-founded Juvenile Law Center in 1975. Throughout her legal career, Levick has been an advocate for children’s and women's rights and is a nationally recognized expert in juvenile law.