Shapiro’s $18M plan would house youth on the grounds of a maximum-security men’s prison

Samantha Melamed and Ellie Rushing, The Philadelphia Inquirer •
Google Earth image of SCI Phoenix Campus

The State Correctional Institution Phoenix, in a bucolic corner of Montgomery County, is a maximum-security men’s prison.

But a 48-bed unit on the grounds of the Phoenix complex could also soon house boys as young as 13.

Gov. Josh Shapiro’s budget proposal, first outlined Feb. 6, identified $18.1 million in funding to build out a facility for youth who’ve been found delinquent — but did not specify that it would be at a state prison. A spokesperson for Pennsylvania’s Department of Human Services (DHS), which oversees youth facilities, acknowledged it would be at Phoenix, but emphasized it would be “outside the secure perimeter.”

“This new center will be secure and safe for both juveniles and workers, provide education and treatment for adjudicated youth, and it is completely separate from SCI Phoenix,” spokesperson Brandon Cwalina said in a statement.

The Youth Development Center, which would open in July, aims to address a shortage in beds at state facilities that has contributed to dangerous overcrowding at Philadelphia’s juvenile jail. In 2022, the city sued DHS over its failure to accept teenagers sentenced to placement fast enough, creating a backlog that left kids sleeping on floors.

“Too many youth are being funneled into the system. It’s harmful and the research shows the harms they experience when they’re in adult facilities,” said Malik Pickett, senior attorney at the Juvenile Law Center. “It’s more money being spent to expand the system when we need to be looking into alternatives.”


About the Expert
Malik Pickett is a staff attorney at Juvenile Law Center who joined the organization in 2020. He advocates for the rights of youth in the juvenile justice system through litigation, amicus and policy advocacy efforts. Prior to joining Juvenile Law Center, Pickett worked as an associate attorney with the law firm of Wade Clark Mulcahy, LLP where he litigated personal injury and construction defect cases and as a legislative counsel for the Honorable Pennsylvania State Senators Shirley M. Kitchen and Jay Costa.