WEEKLY REPORT: CITING PAINFUL LESSONS FROM CITY HISTORY, MEMBERS RAISE ALARM OVER CONDITIONS AT JUVENILE JUSTICE CENTER

In Cindy Bass, Council News, Curtis Jones, Jr., Darrell L. Clarke, Isaiah Thomas, Jamie Gauthier, Katherine Gilmore Richardson, Kendra Brooks, News by PHL Council

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COUNCIL RESOLUTION URGES CITY TO FILE LAWSUIT AGAINST COMMONWEALTH OVER OVERCROWDING AT JUVENILE JUSTICE CENTER

Chronic overcrowding of juveniles, severe under-staffing of employees, and a fight that led to 20 staffers being injured at the Juvenile Justice Services Center led City Council to take the unusual step Thursday of passing a resolution urging the City to sue the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania over growing problems at the PJJSC.

The Juvenile Justice Center is the city’s only secure juvenile detention center. The PJJSC holds juveniles accused of crimes at the request of the city’s judicial system until their cases are heard and decided. Then, juveniles sentenced to state correctional facilities wait at the PJJSC until state officials pick them up and transport them to a state facility.

The Commonwealth has currently not picked up over 70 juveniles already sentenced to a state facility, leading PJJSC to surpass its 180-person capacity and experience severe overcrowding, according to a resolution introduced by Council Majority Leader Curtis Jones, Jr. (4th District).

While the overcrowding issue festers, the juvenile facility is also dealing with severe understaffing, leading to dangerous conditions for both juveniles and staff, the resolution states.

“Recently, in the midst of trying to break up a fight between two juveniles housed at the facility, twenty PJJSC employees, including Youth Detention Counselors, Supervisors, and Shift Managers, were injured. The police had to be called to PJJSC, and several staff and at least one resident had to be taken out of the facility by Emergency Medical Services personnel,” the resolution states.

These dangerous conditions led Council on Thursday to pass Jones’ resolution, which “encourages the Law Department to file a lawsuit against the State of Pennsylvania seeking injunctive relief for their refusal to take custody of juveniles sentenced to state facilities who are currently housed at the Philadelphia Juvenile Justice Services Center (PJJSC).”

During floor speeches after the resolution passed, At Large Councilmember Isaiah Thomas spoke passionately about the situation at the PJJSC. Thomas referenced another resolution approved in Council this week, calling for Council to formally apologize for the decades-long secret medical experiments in the ‘50s and ‘60s conducted on prisoners at the Holmesburg prison.

“I’m going to speak up now about what’s happening at the Juvenile Justice Center, and I refuse to be quiet about this,” Thomas told his colleagues.

“It is the responsibility of the State to take into their care the juveniles that have been put under their supervision by the Courts,” Jones’ resolution concludes, before urging the Law Department to file suit. “Their refusal to do so continues to pose a significant threat to the safety of juveniles housed at the facility and facility staff.”

COUNCILMEMBERS TRAVEL TO TRENTON TO LEARN HOW THE CITY IS DRIVING DOWN GUN HOMICIDES AND SHOOTINGS

As Philadelphia continues to struggle with a near-record, relentless pace of gun homicides, shootings, and an increasing number of youths being shot, City Councilmembers this week went on the road to Trenton, New Jersey, which for a three-month period this Summer, experienced zero homicides. Councilmembers went to find out why.

In Trenton, the Philadelphia delegation met with Mayor W. Reed Gusciora and a host of the mayor’s core team of officials – police and fire, recreation and human services, sanitation and others.

The Philadelphia Councilmembers learned how Trenton has adopted a collaborative, interdisciplinary approach in which all city services and departments interact regularly with a primary goal – make Trenton safer by reducing the number of shootings and homicides that occur.

So far in 2022, homicides in Trenton are down 46 percent, and for a notable three-month stretch from June through August, the city experienced zero homicides.

Mayor Gusciora and his team gave the Philadelphia delegation an hour-long presentation on their tactics, and then led them on a walking tour through East Trenton that finished at a renovated recreation center where non-profit organizations of all kinds are welcomed to provide services to local residents.

“One of the things we’re learning today is how much all of you like working with one another,” said Philadelphia Council President Darrell L. Clarke (5th District). “We need more of that in Philadelphia.”

There were a variety of tactics and strategies that caught Philadelphia’s attention, including the use of Shotspotter technology to help police respond more quickly to reports and sounds of shootings to reduce further violence.  Councilmembers have advocated for the Shotspotter technology’s use in Philadelphia for several years, but police have not moved forward with it, a fact noted by Council Majority Leader Curtis Jones. Jr. at the meeting with the mayor.

Another tactic that Trenton is exploring: Renaming and re-purposing its Police Athletic League as a Police Activities League. “Not every child is into sports,” the mayor told his Philadelphia guests, “and we want these activities to reach every young person we can possibly reach.”

Councilmember Thomas, who devoted a good portion of his Summer in Philadelphia to hosting a youth basketball camp – which also provided other activities for young persons – was impressed.

Council President Clarke said he intended to come together with his Council colleagues and develop an after-action report with ideas learned in Trenton, and advocate for their use in Philadelphia.

However, the Council President reminded his colleagues and the press of Council’s limited role in city governance. City Council appropriates funding, but it is the mayor and the executive branch which decides how and when to spend tax dollars.

“It’s about implementation in the end,” Clarke pointed out as the walking tour ended their mission to Trenton.

Clarke, Jones and Thomas were joined in Trenton by Council’s Whip Mark Squilla (1st District), Deputy Whip Cindy Bass (8th District) and Councilmember Katherine Gilmore Richardson (At Large).

COUNCIL PRESIDENT SUBMITS LEGISLATION TO CREATE A 5TH DISTRICT OVERLAY TO REQUIRE MORE AFFORDABLE HOUSING

The 5th District Overlay legislation which Council President Clarke had introduced would do the following:

  • New construction projects of 10 or more residential units shall be subject to the following requirements:
  • Twenty percent (20%) of on-site units shall be affordable with:
  • Rents no more than at thirty percent (30%) of residents’ monthly income (including rent and utility costs) for people earning sixty percent (60%) Area Median Income (AMI); and
  • Homeownership units offered at eighty percent (80%) AMI or less.
  • The boundaries of the 5th District Overlay are as follows:

The area bounded by John F. Kennedy Boulevard, 15th Street, Lehigh Avenue, Broad Street, Roosevelt Boulevard, Old York Road, Pike Street, 13th Street, Germantown Avenue, Ontario Street, 13th Street, Clearfield Street, 12th Street, Glenwood Avenue, 13th Street, Spring Garden Street, and Broad Street.

The Council President isn’t the first Member to introduce legislation seeking to overlay a district with clear requirements for more affordable housing. These bills are in response to development pressures and the effect of gentrification that can drive long-time neighborhood residents out of their homes and apartments.

SEEN ON SOCIAL MEDIA…

IN OTHER NEWS…

Councilmember Bass Calls for Hearings on the State of Mayor Kenney’s Rebuild Initiative. The resolution authorizes Council’s Parks and Recreation Committee to hold hearings on the pace and progress of the city’s Rebuild Initiative, a signature program of the Kenney administration to rebuild and renovate dozens of recreation centers across the city.

“A majority of the projects throughout every Council district remain stalled,” the resolution states, while further noting the ongoing crisis of gun violence in too many neighborhoods.

Councilmember Brooks introduces resolution in support of election workers and volunteers.  Councilmember Kendra Brooks (At Large) introduced a resolution noting the significant, vital work of the Philadelphia City Commissioners, their staffs and volunteer poll watchers, as the city and state approach a critical midterm election for Governor of Pennsylvania, U.S. Senate, Congress, and a host of state legislative races.

The resolution “Affirming and praising Philadelphia’s City Commissioners and citizen poll workers in implementing free and fair election procedures to determine the will of all eligible Philadelphia voters, and decrying efforts to undermine such officials and citizen participants through bullying and legislative interference.”

OTHER SIGHTS AND SOUNDS FROM THE COUNCIL WEEK

Committee on Finance 10-17-2022

Stated Meeting of Philadelphia City Council 10-20-2022

The next Stated Meeting of City Council is scheduled to take place on Thursday, October 27, 2022 at 10 a.m. in Philadelphia City Hall, Room 400 and will air on Xfinity Ch. 64, Fios Channel 40 and stream at www.PHLCouncil.com/watch.

Weekly Stated Meetings will be in-person for the remainder of the year. Masks will be recommended and provided.

Out of an abundance of caution and with the public’s health in mind, public hearings will continue to be conducted remotely.

Featured Photo: Jared Piper/PHLCouncil

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