Wayne County ends public health emergency over overcrowded juvenile jail

Wayne County has ended a months-long public health emergency after reports of overcrowding at its Juvenile Detention Facility forced it to reduce the number admitted in the center and increase its staffing. 

The county has also hired new directors to fill a leadership gap at the JDF and made a space for mental health treatment. 

Executive Warren Evans declared a public health emergency in March due to overcrowding in its juvenile jail after reports of more than 140 children living in a facility built to house only 80 people.

Evans said at the time juvenile overcrowding happened due to a lack of space at long-term care facilities, which forced kids to stay longer at the center. He said one juvenile had spent more than 800 days at the JDF.

The emergency was declared during his state of the county address, expanding resources for the facility and speed up processing for those admitted.

A total of $10 million has since been directed toward reworking and improving operations at the detention center, the Health, Human and Veterans Services Department Director said.

"Looking back at what we’ve achieved in the span of this emergency, it’s clear that this is an inflection point for our facility," said Assad Turfe, Deputy County Executive. "There’s much more to be done, but we’re building on solid foundations now."

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The chair of the Wayne County Commission said the emergency enabled them to take "quick, decisive action" while also taking a broader view at shortcomings within the facility.

Criticisms of the detention center's operations reached the state legislature in March when a state Senate Committee heard testimony claiming low staffing, funding, and overcrowding. 

Among complains made to FOX 2 was from one mother who said her son had called her crying "Mom there’s literally poop floating through the hallways, urine and feces."

At the time the emergency was declared, there were 134 youths held inside the facility. That number has fallen to 113, according to Monday's announcement. Here are other changes made at the facility:

  • More Staffing: Wayne County has raised wages 35% across the board, allowing the County to hire an additional 54 staff members since declaring the Public Health Emergency, with an additional 60 positions now open
  • Expanded leadership: Wayne County has hired two new Deputy Directors with a long track record in corrections, law enforcement, and public service, and is in the process of hiring a third.
  • Reduced overcrowding: Along with reducing the population of youth in the facility, the County has more than doubled the space within which youths are residing. Whereas there had been upwards of 50 youths per housing pod, there are currently no more than 20 youths per pod.
  • Reinstituting a classification system: In accordance with best practices for juvenile detention, youths are now separated by age and charge.
  • In-facility treatment: Wayne County has created a new space dedicated for mental health treatment for youths, operated in partnership with Team Wellness, which will begin on June 15th
  • Expanded placements: Team Wellness has created a community day treatment program for eligible youths to expand possible placements to reduce long-term stays for adjudicated youths.