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Request to Shut Down Unlawful Berks County Children Jail and To Revoke Unlawfully Issued License

Below is a request we sent out today to Pennsylvania State Authorities to shut down the Berks County Residential Center (“BCRC”)

BCRC is a secure detention facility under Pennsylvanian law, which also states that children under the age of 10 cannot be detained in a secure detention facility.

Given that BCRC does in fact detain children as young as 14 days old, it is violating Pennsylvania law and must be shut down.

Below is our request:

March 23, 2015

Dear Ms. Perry:

I am an attorney in New York who has represented various children who have previously been detained at the Berks County Residential Center (“BCRC”) located in Leesport, Pennsylvania.

As you know, Pennsylvania Code § 3800 governs the standards for licensing and regulation over child residential centers.

On October 31, 2014, Pennsylvania’s Office of Children, Youth, and Families (“OCYF”) issued a Certificate of Compliance for the BCRC as “Child Residential and Day Treatment Facilities pursuant to PA  § 3800, renewing its license until February 21, 2016.

However, OCYF had no authority to issue a certificate of compliance for BCRC because the latter is a “secure detention facility” under PA Code § 3800.5, which is “…any 24-hour living setting to one or more children…from which voluntary egress is prohibited” through one of the following mechanisms:

(i)   Egress from the building, or a portion of the building, is prohibited through internal locks within the building or exterior locks.

(ii)   Egress from the premises is prohibited through secure fencing around the perimeter of the building.”

In BCRC children are prohibited from leaving because of locks and guards prohibit their egress.

Even a mother who desperately wants to protect her 14 day old baby–and thus, a baby without any immunities to viruses and bacteria–from contracting a potentially deadly infection by leaving is physically barred from doing so.

As such, the license issued by OCYF to the operators of BCRC–the Berks County Commissioners–is unlawful because BCRC does not comply with the licensing requirements for a secure detention facility for children as set forth by PA Code § 3800.283.

PA Code § 3800.283(7) prohibits the placement of children 9 years of age and younger in a secure detention facility. Subsection 8 further states that: “A child may not remain in the facility longer than is absolutely necessary.”

PA Code  § 6237(e) further clarifies that the only time a child under the age of 10 can be detained is if that child is a “dependent child.” If detained, that child must then be placed in a shelter care facility, which is far less restrictive than a secure detention facility.

A dependent child includes children under the age of 10 who have been abandoned by their parents or guardians; have no parents; or have committed a delinquent act.

None of the children detained in BCRC are “dependent children.” Further, even children under 10 who are classified as dependent would be barred from placement in BCRC because it is a secure detention facility.

The Standards for Governing The Use of Secure Detention Under The Juvenile Act, PA § 200, contains additional robust protections against the detaining children whenever possible.

For example, even children 10 years and older cannot be placed in a secure detention facility unless that child has also alleged or been found to be delinquent. See PA Code § 200.1(a)

When a child is eligible for secure detention, subsection b of the same code states that detention is not mandatory and “forms of control short of secure detention…shall be given preference.”

BCRC is detaining non-delinquent children–including babies just a few days old–for one sole purpose: to permit Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) to deport them and their parents.

Since June of 2014, BCRC has been detaining children for several months and in some instances up to one year.

It is substantially less than “absolutely necessary” for the Berks County Commissioners to detain children under the age of 10 in a secure detention facility for as long as it takes to deport them.

In fact, detention of children in BCRC is directly against their best interests because it harms their physical and mental health. OCYF’s licensing of BCRC is an act directly against the best interests of the children it is bound by law to protect.

Given that the BCRC is in direct violation of PA Code § 3800(7)-(8); PA Code § 200.1(a)-(b), and that it violates the entire legal and regulatory framework for child welfare in Pennsylvania by detaining children directly against their best interests, BCRC’s license must be revoked and BCRC must be shut down immediately.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter. If you should have any questions, please call me at 631-647-9701.

Very Truly Yours,

Bryan S. Johnson, Esq.

CC:

Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General

Attorney General Kathleen Kane

16th Floor, Strawberry Square

Harrisburg, PA 17120

Commissioners Office

Berks County Services Center

633 Court Street, 13th Floor

Reading, PA 19601

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