Pennsylvania will launch an investigation into child abuse and lawbreaking at the Glen Mills Schools in response to an Inquirer investigation, the state auditor general said Monday.
“The alleged abuse of students and long-running culture of secrecy at Glen Mills shocks the conscience,” said Auditor General Eugene DePasquale. “Because the institution receives public funds, I am demanding that the school answer what, if any, policies it has to prevent the abuse of students and ensure that reports of abuse are properly handled.”
The probe will focus on whether Glen Mills complied with all laws regarding child abuse; whether the school has policies and effective procedures to prevent such abuse; what avenues students have to report abuse; and whether Glen Mills has properly conducted background checks on its counselors and other employees.
“Protecting kids from abuse is job one,” DePasquale said. “No young person, no matter what circumstances led to their placement in a reform facility, deserves to be mistreated."
Last month, The Inquirer published an investigation documenting decades of abuse and cover-ups at the Delaware County campus for court-ordered boys. In response to the story, judges from Los Angeles and Houston to Philadelphia and Pittsburgh removed more than 100 boys — nearly half of the enrollment — from Glen Mills, the oldest existing reform school in the United States.
Through a spokesperson, Glen Mills leaders said they would cooperate with the auditor general and other local and state officials who are investigating the school. “We take these allegations very seriously, and we will continue to provide access to information requested by those individuals, as well as Glen Mills Schools families, customers and our independent review panel," they said in a statement.
Leaders at Glen Mills have denied wrongdoing, and formed a review panel to investigate any misconduct. The Glen Mills board president resigned Feb. 28, citing personal and business reasons. Executive director Randy Ireson is taking a leave of absence for health reasons, according to the school, and continues to receive compensation and live in school-affiliated housing.
Last week, local and state lawmakers gathered outside Philadelphia’s juvenile courthouse to demand a comprehensive state-level investigation into abuse and cover-ups at Glen Mills. Both the state Department of Human Services (DHS) and the Delaware County district attorney have said they are investigating allegations of abuse at Glen Mills. Gov. Tom Wolf said he was reviewing oversight of Glen Mills by DHS, which licenses and inspects these juvenile programs.
J.J. Abbott, a spokesperson for the governor, said the auditor general’s investigation is “separate and unrelated” to the review by DHS, which is attempting to interview former students about their time at Glen Mills. He encouraged current or former students, parents, staff, “or anyone else who has experienced or is aware of potential incidents of abuse” to contact the state through its toll-free hotline.
“Many of these alleged incidents could rise to a level of criminality that would go beyond what a state audit could reasonably address,” said Abbott. “Gov. Wolf wants justice for victims and accountability for those responsible.”
Glen Mills, founded in 1826 as the Philadelphia House of Refuge, will receive a formal letter this week “outlining objectives” for the audit, DePasquale said. He expects to share his findings with DHS.
Gary Miller, a spokesperson for the auditor general, said reviews typically take less than a year. Miller characterized the probe as a “performance audit," rather than financial, and said he could not discuss the specific steps the auditor general would take to investigate the school.
At the conclusion of the investigation, the auditor general could suggest policy changes and legislative actions. “We’ll go wherever the facts lead us,” Miller said.
Philadelphia had spent upward of $52,000 per boy each year at Glen Mills. Following weeks of placement hearings, all 51 of those boys had left Glen Mills by Monday, Philadelphia Human Services Commissioner Cynthia Figueroa said. Still, Figueroa said she supported the “deeper investigation," adding, “We hope the auditor general’s investigation will underscore the need for change."
Marsha Levick, chief legal officer for the Juvenile Law Center, said she was pleased that the auditor general would investigate Glen Mills; but also called on the governor to convene a special commission “to fully address the conditions and circumstances across each branch of government in the commonwealth that allowed this situation to flourish over decades.”
Delaware County District Attorney Katayoun M. Copeland has had an open investigation of Glen Mills since last summer, when The Inquirer reported that counselors choked and beat an asthmatic teen from Philadelphia.
After The Inquirer investigation was published last month, two state lawmakers and several local council members called on Copeland to work with Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro. Shapiro’s office can only investigate if a district attorney refers a case to him, citing a conflict or a lack of adequate resources.
“As elected officials, we need to know what law enforcement agencies in Delaware County, including the District Attorney’s Office, have known about these repeated incidents, and why no actions have been taken to stop the systemic abuse of children in our county,” said Delaware County Council members Kevin Madden and Brian Zidek in a statement released Monday by Jack Stollsteimer, a Democrat and a prosecutor challenging Copeland for her seat this year.