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Pennsylvania inspector general launches investigation on oversight of Glen Mills

Just 74 boys remain at the nation’s oldest reform school as multiple agencies probe abuse allegations.

Founded in 1826, Glen Mills is the oldest school for delinquent boys in the country, set on nearly 800 acres of rolling hills in Delaware County.
Founded in 1826, Glen Mills is the oldest school for delinquent boys in the country, set on nearly 800 acres of rolling hills in Delaware County.Read moreDAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer

Pennsylvania law enforcement officials are investigating why child abuse and cover-ups went on for decades at the Glen Mills Schools, in response to an Inquirer investigation of the Delaware County campus.

State Inspector General Bruce Beemer — whose office has the power to issue subpoenas and search warrants, access criminal justice databases, and coordinate with other law enforcement agencies — will review the practices of the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS), which licenses and oversees Glen Mills and other programs for court-ordered youth.

The inspector also will likely investigate the school itself and the allegations of abuse and cover-ups surrounding Glen Mills. “This is the kind of case where we have an obligation to follow wherever the facts lead us," said Clarke Madden, chief of staff to the inspector general. “And that’s what we’ll do.”

Last month, The Inquirer reported that Glen Mills counselors routinely beat boys in their care, then kept them quiet with threats of worse placements and longer sentences. Former staff said they were demoted or fired for standing up for children and reporting abuse. Meanwhile, the school’s top leaders failed to properly vet or train counselors, and insulated themselves from reports of violence.

Nearly 70 percent of its students have left Glen Mills, the oldest U.S. reform school, since The Inquirer report.

The school has denied wrongdoing, and formed a review panel to probe the allegations. Its executive director, Randy Ireson, has taken a leave of absence, and the president of the Glen Mills Board of Managers has resigned.

Aimee Tysarczyk, a spokesperson for Glen Mills, said the school would cooperate with the inspector general’s investigation. “We take these allegations very seriously and will continue to provide access to information requested by state and local officials, as well as Glen Mills Schools families, customers, and our independent review panel,” Tysarczyk said. “Violence is against our mission and against our values — as it has been for nearly two centuries.”

Amid calls for a state investigation from local and state lawmakers, Gov. Tom Wolf requested on March 6 a full rundown of DHS’s oversight of Glen Mills. In a letter dated March 18, DHS Secretary Teresa Miller referred the review to Beemer.

“The Department believes that your agency is in a better position, given your law enforcement role, to coordinate more directly with other investigations of the allegations against Glen Mills,” Miller said in the letter.

The Pennsylvania auditor general also is investigating, as is the Delaware County district attorney.

Ali Fogarty, a spokesperson for DHS, said the department “felt it was both imperative to do everything in its power to review its current licensing and investigative authority and procedures … to better identify potential incidents of abuse before they can be shrouded by a coordinated cover-up.”

“We are hopeful that the inspector general’s investigation will help us identify opportunities to strengthen our processes to fight institutional failures,” Fogarty said.

State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta (D., Philadelphia) is planning to introduce a resolution urging DHS to review child-abuse reporting procedures at not just Glen Mills but all state-licensed schools for court-ordered youth.

“One instance of abuse is too many, but what we have here is a broader culture we have to deal with,” said Kenyatta. “It allowed something like this to fester under our noses. My hope is [the inspector general] comes back with some specific things that we can do, whether it’s regulatory or statutory.”

Madden, the chief of staff, said the inspector would likely review whether Glen Mills complied with state statutes governing youth residential facilities. Chapter 3800 of the Pennsylvania Code forbids staff at these programs from using physical restraints to punish a child. It prohibits all child abuse and requires employees at these facilities to immediately report even the most minor allegations to the state.

The Inquirer found that Glen Mills counselors beat up children — in some cases breaking their bones — over nonviolent infractions, such as running away, mouthing off, or talking poorly about the school. Instead of using state-approved restraint techniques, staff slammed children to the floor, where they punched, choked, and kicked them.

In response to The Inquirer investigation, jurisdictions from across the country removed more than 100 of the 238 boys who were enrolled at Glen Mills last month. At its peak, Glen Mills had more than 1,000 students. As of Tuesday, 74 boys remained at the school, Fogarty said.

Philadelphia was spending upward of $52,000 each year per boy it sent to Glen Mills, before officials decided to remove its 51 youths. City Councilwoman Helen Gym, who led the charge locally for a state-level investigation, said she was encouraged by the inspector general’s involvement.

“His office is much more far-reaching, because of the scope of what he can look at,” said Gym, chair of the Council’s Children and Youth Committee. “Our hope is it will be a much more systemic and comprehensive analysis of what broke down and what the state needs to do to fix things.”

The modern Office of the State Inspector General was established in 2017 with sweeping law enforcement powers. The department has two investigative bureaus, with offices in Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Wilkes-Barre.

Madden said he expects the Inspector General’s Office will make its findings public once the investigation concludes. He could not say how long the probe will take.

“We’re going to undertake a comprehensive and thorough investigation of the matter,” he said. “We have to start with the underlying facts and develop our own records and facts."

As for what’s on the table, Madden said the inspector general will consider “any issue which presents itself, one of which is a matter of concern to citizens."

“I do not consider us to be limited in any way.”