Inside Allegheny County’s $73 million contract for a private juvenile detention operator

Allegheny County’s Shuman Juvenile Detention Center sits shuttered on Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023, in Lincoln-Lemington-Belmar. The county announced mid-September that it would hire private company Adelphoi to reopen and run the center, which has been closed since September 2021. (Photo by Stephanie Strasburg/PublicSource)

Adelphoi is to be paid a per-bed amount regardless of the number of young people in its care — starting months before the first adjudicated person arrives.

by Charlie Wolfson, PublicSource

After Allegheny County announced a contract two weeks ago with nonprofit Adelphoi to reopen and operate the Shuman Juvenile Detention Center, County Council voted to sue the county administration over the plan.

They hadn’t yet seen the details.

The five-year, $73 million contract provides for significant money for Adelphoi up front and includes limited exit options for the county. 

The county and Adelphoi have agreed to the contract, but County Controller Corey O’Connor said he has not finished processing it yet. The controller, an independently elected watchdog, is responsible for processing payments to vendors. 

O’Connor said in an interview Thursday that he had not signed it because his staff was going through a normal review process, and “we have some questions” about the agreement. He reiterated previous comments that he is opposed to hiring an outside entity for juvenile detention. The controller’s office is a procedural and fiscal backstop, though, and does not generally impose policy views. 

Here are five notable provisions in the contract:

A big price tag

The $73 million maximum cost of the contract means that the county could pay significantly more to operate the detention center than it used to. The yearly average of about $14 million is about 40% higher than the county paid when the center was publicly run up until its 2021 closure. And the new price tag doesn’t factor in maintenance, utilities and emergency repairs, which the county will still be on the hook for.

The contract stipulates that the county will pay a fixed amount for each bed in the facility, regardless of whether the beds are in use. That daily rate, set by the state’s Department of Human Services, is $650 and could change each year.

The county’s plan is for the facility to operate 60 beds, which means the county would owe Adelphoi $39,000 per day, or $14.2 million per year. 

The payment model based on capacity rather than use could be key in warding off the fear of corruption or corruption itself. As President Judge Kim Berkeley Clark said in an unusual public comment to council to advocate for the reopening plan, the absence of any financial incentive to fill detention beds prevents kickback schemes like Luzerne County’s “Kids for Cash” scandal.
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