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Officials: Mich. county juvenile jail lacks showers, schooling, clean underwear

The details came to light after a public health emergency order was issued for the center earlier this week


AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

By Kara Berg
The Detroit News

DETROIT — State employees observing the Wayne County Juvenile Detention Facility have reported “serious concerns” in the center, including a lack of access to showers and education services, after intervening last week at the center, Michigan’s health and welfare director said Wednesday.

Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Elizabeth Hertel told The Detroit News that staffers have reported some kids have said they haven’t had access to showers in months and did not have hygiene products or clean underwear. She also said the charter school the county contracted with cannot operate in the center, so there is no access to education for the kids detained there.

“We are seeing some serious concerns in the facility,” Hertel said. “The things the staff are observing are really concerning.”

Her comments came after Wayne County Executive Warren Evans issued a public health emergency order for the detention center Tuesday night during his State of the County address.

“The situation has become untenable for nearly 140 youth that are currently residing there,” Evans said in his remarks. “Extraordinary action has become necessary, which is why today I’m calling for a public health state emergency.

“This order, under the powers of the county health officer, will allow us to establish an incident command structure reporting directly to me, which will expedite action to adequately staff and provide therapeutic services in the facility. But in the end, the most important action needed to address the situation is for the state to provide long-term residential beds.”

The Senate Appropriations subcommittee for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is meeting Wednesday afternoon about issues with the JDF.

[EARLIER: Mich. county issues public health emergency order amid ‘untenable’ situation at juvenile jail]

The juvenile facility, which was built to house about 80 juvenile offenders, has been at double capacity for months, at times holding up to 150 teenagers. Nearly half of those teenagers have already been adjudicated and a judge has deemed them to be in need of treatment at a residential center, according to the county.

When the state intervened in the JDF last week, after a child reportedly was sexually assaulted in the detention center, there were seven active licensing investigations, Hertel said. Prior to last week, the state did not have access to the facility to see what was going on, she said. The state intervention is allowing staff to work with the children, adding enhanced oversight and working with leaders to ensure the facility is implementing changes.

The alleged sexual assault and intervention came after months of Wayne County pleading for the state to help county officials manage overcrowding at the detention facility, which county officials say stems from the state not providing enough residential treatment centers for youth.

Hertel said last week preliminary reports showed there was “incredibly improper supervision” in the facility before the sexual assault occurred.

The county fired Mark Roland, a deputy director at the Juvenile Detention facility, and reassigned facility Director Brandon Barber to another position Friday after the alleged sexual assault.

Hertel said the state has been working closely with Wayne County for a “number of months” to implement corrective action plans. She would not comment specifically on the plans or if Wayne County was following them, but she indicated the action plans were still in place. She said the county is “making a commitment” to change.

Hertel said the state has been talking to some Wayne County judges and offering assistance in reviewing cases to identify possible alternative placements. She said the state has recommended the use of alternative programs during the day to alleviate some pressures on the JDF.

“We are grateful Wayne County has taken action in recognizing this is a serious problem,” Hertel said. “I hope putting in place structures to address issues will result in significant improvements.”

Genelle Allen, Wayne County’s chief operating officer, faulted the state for ignoring its responsibility to care for the county’s delinquent youth. She sent a letter Feb. 9 to Demetrius Starling, senior deputy director for the children’s service administration at the Michigan department, questioning why the state hadn’t done more to help.

“The continuous overpopulation problem at the Wayne County Juvenile Detention Facility is an emergency and must be treated as such by MDHHS and not simply dismissed because the Department claims they aren’t ‘State’ youths,” Allen wrote. “While MDHHS was taking all of these licensing actions, the Department surely had to know that the constant dwindling pool of available beds would result in the current system collapse that has landed squarely upon Wayne County and the Court.”


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