York County considers new juvenile detention center at prison

Matt Enright
York Dispatch

Juvenile detainees could end up being housed at York County Prison under a proposal being considered by York County officials.

The potential juvenile detention facility would fill space left vacant by the departure of a federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility in 2021. Currently, juvenile detainees from York County are sent to neighboring counties — a solution that county officials say isn't ideal for the county or the inmates' families.

"We're now in a position that I think we're ready to do a feasibility study if this board agrees that it's a good opportunity," Commissioner Doug Hoke, also president of the Prison Board of Inspectors, said Wednesday.

York County Prison in Springettsbury Township Monday, August, 24, 2020. Bill Kalina photo

Hoke said the juvenile facility, which would include 12 beds at the back of the prison, would be separated from the rest of the prison population and would house only juveniles who face criminal sanction, not those who need shelter.

The county's Prison Board of Inspectors, whose members include all three county commissioners, approved a $10,000 feasibility study Wednesday.

"(Due to) the fact that we have space available," Warden Adam Ogle said, "I think it's appropriate to look at it."

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Hoke said the prison would need to undergo renovations before it could house juvenile detainees. The cost and any potential timetable for the completion of those upgrades are still undetermined, he said.

The York County Department of Human Services and the state Department of Human Services, however, have already visited the prison to examine the potential site, Hoke said.

He noted that there's limited space for juvenile detainees statewide. Either way, he said, it would be better to house the minors in the community, closer to their families and any legal representation.

A lack of juvenile detention centers has caused overcrowding at certain centers. In Philadelphia, overcrowding at the Juvenile Justice Services Center led the city to place juveniles hours away and, in some instances, as far as away as Texas, according to CBS.

In York County, Ogle said two dormitories would be examined for potential conversion into a detention center. One of the dormitories is closer to the parking lot, but the other has more windows, something Ogle said the Department of Human Services prioritizes.

"They like light coming in," Hoke said.

The dormitories would provide space for classrooms and recreation, he said. The places where the juveniles stay would be set up more like bedrooms than jail cells.

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Hoke said the area would also have space for recreation, including a basketball court.

One other concern to be addressed is staffing. Those who work with juveniles rather than adult prisoners are required to have different certifications; Ogle and Hoke said that's a question to be addressed after the feasibility study.

The feasibility study is to be conducted by firm C.S. Davidson, which completed two other feasibility studies for the prison last year as the prison seeks to adapt spaces formerly occupied by ICE detainees. The study will need final approval from the York County Board of Commissioners first.

That board meets at 10 a.m. Feb. 15 at the York County Administrative Center, 28 E. Market St., York.

— Reach Matt Enright via email at menright@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @Matthew_Enright.