County Council votes to sue Allegheny County over private juvenile detention contract

The council approved the suit 9-4-2 in an attempt to bring forth a vote over whether Latrobe-based Adelphoi can contract with the county to reopen the Shuman Juvenile Detention Center.

By James Paul

The Allegheny County Council voted Tuesday to file a lawsuit against the county administration to enable the council to vote on a contract over the reopening of the embattled Shuman Juvenile Detention Center.

The county announced on Sept. 15 it had reached an agreement with Latrobe nonprofit Adelphoi, a social services provider, to manage the former Shuman Juvenile Detention Center. The contract is valued at $73.2 million over five years. Shuman shut down in 2021 after the state revoked its operating license over a history of safety violations. 

At the Tuesday council meeting, the council members voted 9-4 with two abstentions to direct the council solicitor to file a suit against the County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and/or the Fifth Judicial District Court of Common Pleas seeking a judgment over the conditional use of the Shuman Center site.

Councilmembers Tom Duerr, Nicholas Futules, Bob Macey and Sam DeMarco voted no and Suzanne Filiaggi and DeWitt Walton abstained.

Councilmember Bethany Hallam slammed the county at the meeting for contracting with Adelphoi to reopen the center. Before the motion passed, Hallam said the vote wasn’t a question of reforming the juvenile justice system or if Shuman should reopen.

Instead, she said, “This is about the county executive and the courts conspiring together to attempt to supersede the authority that is given to us as council members under the county charter.”

[The Pittsburgh Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and The Pittsburgh Independent previously reported on the county’s quiet efforts to privatize Shuman. Read here]

Councilmember DeMarco, who voted no, called the debate a “food fight with the administration over county property being used by another government entity” and likened the contract with Shuman to similar contracts that haven’t needed county council approval in the past. 

“Adelphoi is not using the facility, the courts are, they’re just doing the management, which should be no different than our food service vendors in the jail — they don’t have to come before us,” DeMarco said.

Council President Pat Catena said after the vote that a lawsuit still needs to be prepared before it goes in front of a judge and even then it might be held up by an existing suit over the minimum wage legislation

He said he thinks the vote on the lawsuit will be indicative of how the council will lean if a vote to contract with Adelphoi is brought forth.

Kimberly Berkley Clark, president judge of the Fifth Judicial District, warned the council before the vote of suing the county. 

She said the county does not have enough detention beds to detain children charged with violent crimes or gang offenses and noted  the county is forced to send children who are at “serious” risk of self-harm home with flimsy electronic monitoring.

“Many counties rely on private nonprofit providers to provide these services.“ Clark said at the meeting. “Adelphoi has decades of experience serving at-risk children across the continuum, everything from community-based services to secure residential programs.”

There are currently 23 juveniles in the Allegheny County Jail, according to the inmate dashboard.

If the contract goes through, the center will reopen with a capacity of 12 beds as early as next year with plans to expand to 60. The Pittsburgh Independent and Pittsburgh Institute for Nonprofit Journalism learned the contract with Adelphoi is valued at $73.2 million over five years. 

Clark left the meeting immediately after Tanisha Long, a community organizer for the Abolitionist Law Center, speaking before the County Council, said “I am deeply unsurprised to see Judge Clark here arguing for the opening of Shuman because jailers will always want more jails.”

“This is not a political issue. This is an issue of following our county charter and following our county laws,” Long said. “Detention does not save lives. It does not have a positive effect on outcomes–we have research to show that.”

James Paul is a student at the University of Pittsburgh serving as one of two Pittsburgh Media Partnership interns this semester. He can be reached at