Wayne County Juvenile Detention Facility is seen in Detroit on Thursday, September 15, 2022
Wayne County Juvenile Detention Facility is seen in Detroit on Thursday, September 15, 2022. (Sarahbeth Maney/Detroit Free Press)

Wayne County on Monday ended the public health emergency for its Juvenile Detention Facility citing new leadership, higher wages and staffing levels and more support services for youth.

County Executive Warren Evan signed the order on March 21 over “dangerous” conditions in the youth detention facility in Hamtramck, including overcrowding, claims of inhumane conditions and a Michigan State Police investigation into the alleged sexual assault of a 12-year-old boy, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Under the emergency, the country directed $10 million toward addressing needs in the facility and created an “incident command” led by Heath, Human, and Veterans Services Director Dr. Abdul El-Sayed.

“We’ve used this emergency to answer two key questions: how do we best protect and provide for the youths under our care, and how do we make sure their time at JDF helps them in their long-term rehabilitation,” El-Sayed, who joined the county on March 1, said in a Monday statement. “While there’s a lot more to improve and build upon, we feel that the work we’ve done during the emergency has provided a solid foundation for that work.”

During last week’s Mackinac Policy Conference El-Sayed told BridgeDetroit that the emergency order allowed the county to staff up, raise wages 35% across the board and to make dozens of hires. The county also expanded space within the facility to ease the overcrowding, he said.

Wayne County has worked with the Third Circuit Court and the state of Michigan to reduce the population of young people at the center. The county has hired 54 employees since declaring the emergency and it has another 60 open positions. The county also bolstered its leadership ranks with two deputy directors and officials are in the midst of a nationwide search for a JDF director and chief administrator. 

Additionally, to reduce crowding and the overall population at the facility, the county has more than doubled the space where youth are residing. There had been about 50 youth per housing pod prior to the emergency, now there are no more than 20 per pod. The youth, county officials said, are being grouped together based on age and charge. 

Wayne County noted Monday that beginning June 15 there will be new space in the center for in-facility mental health treatment which will be operated in partnership with Team Wellness. Separately, Team Wellness has expanded placement services with the creation of a community day treatment program for those eligible to reduce long-term stays for adjudicated youth.

“This has been an entire county effort. Ensuring the safety of both staff and youth at the Wayne County Juvenile Detention Facility has always been the goal,” Evans said in the statement. “But that also means thinking broadly about their well-being—about making sure the youth get the help they desperately need.”

Deputy County Executive Assad Turfe said there’s “much more to be done” but the county is now building on solid foundations. 

Elizabeth Hertel, director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), said the state has worked to expand bed capacity at the facility and to connect the county with partners like Team Wellness to further support the safety of youth in detention.

Last week, El-Sayed told BridgeDetroit that the number of youth being housed at the facility and the average length of stay was dramatically impacted by delays tied to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The facility had gone from an average of 65 to 80 youth per day to an average of 150 youth per day–and the wait time for long-term treatment skyrocketed from three weeks to 127 days, he said.

The most important work, El-Sayed said, is keeping young people from landing in juvenile facilities in the first place. That starts with higher quality schools and keeping children healthy. 

“We’ve got to be thinking about all of the trauma and victimization that happens well ahead of a child being involved in a violent offense,” he said last week. “If you want to talk about fixing the juvenile legal system, those kinds of interventions are what we really have to invest in.”

Wayne County Commission Chair Alisha Bell, D-Detroit, said that the emergency required quick, decisive action to address the shortcomings. 

“By working together, we did just that,” Bell added. “This is by no means the end of our efforts and the county’s new juvenile detention facility, which will open this year, gives us much reason to continue moving forward. By placing greater emphasis on mental health issues and creating space this month to provide treatment, we are moving in the right direction.”

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