Two months after a judge ordered the closure of the Delaware County Juvenile Detention Center amid allegations of psychological, physical, and sexual abuse, county leaders have created an oversight board for the facility, which remains shuttered but is expected to reopen.
Applications for the Board of Managers of Juvenile Detention became available Thursday morning, according to County Councilmember Kevin Madden. Six residents of Delaware County will join three members of the county council and the county controller on the board.
“It is vital that new and varied perspectives be brought to the question of rehabilitation and the custody of juvenile offenders,” Madden said. “And it is through this board that these perspectives will be accessed and acted upon.”
Three of the residents will be chosen by the council president, and the other three will be appointed by Delaware County President Judge Kevin Kelly. Madden said he hopes to have the selections in place by the council’s June 2 meeting, so the board could begin its work soon after.
Kelly closed the juvenile detention center in Lima on March 13, after receiving a copy of a letter sent to the state by County Public Defender Christopher Welsh.
In his letter, Welsh included affidavits from former staff members and residents of the center who detailed a disturbing pattern of abuse by guards there. Those who signed affidavits said they were actively discouraged from reporting abuse through established channels.
One reported “a child with severe mental illness tried to asphyxiate herself by swallowing clothing. After staff intervened and cleared the clothes, the girl was thirsty and asked for water. Three staff members took her to a toilet, stuck her head in a bowl and forced her to drink,” according to the defender.
Current and former residents also provided firsthand accounts of physical abuse — including choke holds that caused them to lose consciousness — and hateful speech.
Kelly’s order caused the handful of children in the center at the time to be moved to other facilities, according to Madden. The allegations included in the letter have been referred to the office of Attorney General Josh Shapiro, and that inquiry is ongoing.
Shortly after the center was closed, two former residents filed a federal lawsuit in Philadelphia. In the suit, one woman said guards at the facility took her to private parties where she was given alcohol and drugs and was then sexually abused when she was as young as 16.
A second, male plaintiff in the lawsuit alleged that at age 16 he was raped by a staff member — who said “if he told anyone, he would kill him and his entire family.”
None of the defendants, including the county, has responded to the allegations in the lawsuit.