Shuman director works toward bigger impact

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Every year 3,500 youths are admitted to Shuman Detention Center. Forty percent of that total is represented by repeat admissions, those who have already had one or more visits to the center.

Nothing makes Shuman’s director Wil­liam Simmons unhappier than these startling statistics. Although he only has the youths who come to the center for an average of 15 days, he is focused on doing whatever he can to reduce the recidivism rate.

RevolvingDoor
REVOLVING DOOR—Williams Simmons fights his daily battle to lower recidivism rates.

“One of the biggest challenges is recidivism. That’s a shame. It says a lot about society itself,” Simmons said. “In addition to that it is because we don’t have any impact on their home life. What kind of services are they getting when they go home? That’s the frustrating part.”

Since Shuman opened in 1974 it has served as a temporary placement for Allegheny County youths between the ages of 10 and 17 who are accused of a delinquent offense.

All detained children must have a detention hearing before a judge or hearing officer within 72 hours of admission to determine the need for further detention. If the child is detained, a full hearing on the charges must be held within 10 days.

While detained, they are provided with essential services such as education, recreation and health care. The school’s facilities consist of administrative and counseling offices, a diagnostic center, classrooms, an arts and crafts room, home economics room, a library and a gymnasium.

“We have a school that the Allegheny Intermediate Unit conducts for us. The kids are tested and placed at their academic level,” Simmons said. “We also have a summer school program.”

solitary
SOLITARY—Shuman is a 130-bed facility with individual sleeping rooms.

While these programs address the children’s basic needs, Simmons has also worked to create programs addressing their emotional needs in the hope of deterring a cycle of incarceration.

“We’re looking at a number of programs to help the kids internally as well as relating with others, how to resolve conflicts, how to make decisions,” Simmons said. “We’re not a treatment facility, we’re a detention facility, but I just believe we need to do more even though we’re detention. We’re looking to impact them in a positive way.”

Despite occasional smudges on its close to pristine record and an incident in June 2009 that forced County Executive Dan Onorato to fire seven Shuman employees for negligence, Simmons said the center is seen as the one to beat across the state.

“We don’t like to brag, but over the years Shuman has been looked at as the leader in detention centers and we’re working to maintain that,” Simmons said. “We certainly have more resources with which to do things with our residents than a lot of the other counties. We’re also not afraid of taking information from other facilities that may be doing something different.”

Upon their release from Shuman, typically the youths are transferred to a number of different facilities including residential treatment programs, day treatment, group homes, state youth development centers, mental health or mental retardations programs, and home or foster placement.

“There’s probably 50 different placement facilities that the kids go to. They’re mostly residential,” Simmons said. “Some of them may be in intensive treatment. What we’re finding is we have a number of mental health kids.”

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