Shuman Center improvements starting to show

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There's a turnaround happening at the long-troubled Shuman Juvenile Detention Center, said Allegheny County manager William McKain.

"I believe we've turned a corner, and we're ready to build on that," he said.

In an interview Thursday, Mr. McKain said he believes the county has found the right person to lead that building process.

Earl F. Hill, 69, a former regional director of the state Juvenile Justice Services with 45 years of professional experience, was hired as the interim director of the Lincoln-Lemington facility in December. Last month, he was named its new director. It’s a job that pays $102,318.

Mr. Hill, who has a master's degree in psychology, has a resume that includes director of St. Francis Hospital's Adolescent Chemical Dependency Unit and of the adult outpatient office of the Hill Satellite of Western Psychiatric Institute & Clinic.

"I think we benefit from his depth and knowledge and experience, and that he's the right person at the right time to help us lead Shuman Juvenile Detention," Mr. McKain said.

A spokesman for the Service Employees International Union Local 668, which represents more than 100 Shuman employees, called the changes “refreshing.” Rick Grejda said relations between labor and management at Shuman "have never been better."

"We're very pleased with the progress that has been made," he said. "Both labor and management are committed to making this one of the best youth detention facilities in the state."

For Shuman, it’s a marked changed after what have been some rocky years. The detention facility, built in 1974 to house Allegheny County juveniles who have been charged with a crime, is licensed for up to 120 residents. At any one time, it has a population of about 55 boys and girls whose tenure at Shuman averages about 10 days a piece.

The spate of problems at Shuman came to a head in April 2013, when the state Department of Public Welfare downgraded the facility’s full license to a provisional one, criticizing as inadequate the reforms enacted after a January 2013 incident when police said a guard at Shuman slammed a 16-year-old into a doorframe. It was not reported for four days.

Problems went beyond that incident. Shuman employees petitioned county Executive Rich Fitzgerald, with complaints about working conditions. The condition of the Shuman building itself was raised as another concern.

Shortly before Shuman's license was downgraded, Mr. McKain issued a report that criticized the leadership of the facility and recommended broad changes, and then started implementing them.

In July 2013, Shuman Director William T. Simmons was fired. His deputy, Lynette Drawn-Williamson, stepped down. William S. Stickman III, a former warden of the Allegheny County Jail, was brought on as interim director, and CPA Lillian Reese-McGhee was made permanent deputy director.

Mr. McKain put hiring decisions at Shuman back in the hands of county human resources. Security guards at the building had been reporting to Shuman leadership, a chain-of-command that employees suggested hampered investigations. Now, those guards report to the county police.

Building improvements and grounds maintenance have been completed. The conversation about how to right-size the building due to lower numbers of residents continues and Mr. McKain said he and Mr. Hill are discussing options to "fully utilize" the building for additional programs and services.

To address employee issues, Shuman formed an employee relations committee so that workers have a clear way to communicate their concerns, Mr. McKain said. One of the requests that came out of that committee recently was for uniforms for the staff, an option he said the county is exploring.

In October 2013, Shuman's full license was restored. Mr. Hill came on board at Shuman in December, after Mr. Stickman stepped down to spend more time with family. In Mr. Hill's first nine months, Mr. McKain said, his new director has continued Shuman's positive momentum by communicating with stakeholders including the courts and families.

"It's helping change the culture, to a positive give and take," he said.

There have been other positives. A program funded by the county Department of Human Services, with the support of the Fifth Judicial District, now provides court-appropriate clothing for Shuman residents, such as a buttoned-down shirt and slacks instead of a t-shirt and jeans. It's a program that has contributed to residents' self-esteem, Mr. McKain said.

That's not to say Mr. Hill's tenure has been completely without incident. According to the state Department of Public Welfare, Shuman has been cited for several violations this year, including the content of a health and safety assessment; failure to document administration of a medication; not reporting a physical altercation between two residents until three days later; and using an improper restraint.

The job of overseeing Shuman is a challenging one, Mr. McKain said, and he said the county welcomes the state oversight.

"Those things do occur, but when they do, we have to make sure we have systems that correct it," Mr. McKain said.

According to the state's violation reports, the improper restraint incident came in April, after the resident flung pudding. The worker was suspended, and then terminated, and two supervisors were suspended. The report said that the county police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation conducted interviews after the incident.

No charges have been filed by the county police or the FBI, a county spokeswoman said.

Mr. McKain declined to provide details about the violations, saying he could not discuss personnel issues.

But, he said: "We take it very seriously."

The state inspection reports list corrective actions take by Shuman in response to the violations, and Mr. Hill added that the facility's computer system had been updated to ensure that paperwork procedures are done correctly. Additional training about mandatory reporting of incidents has been conducted with the staff.

Mr. Hill said the corrective actions are preventative.

"I think it sends a message: We're not going to tolerate this," he said.

The Department of Welfare, in its assessment reports, accepted the corrective actions. Earlier this summer, the county received notice that its full license had been renewed for the October 2014 to October 2015 year.

As for Mr. Hill, who said one of his strengths as director is that he's a good listener, he spoke highly of the job he said he wanted when he signed on as interim director.

He said he knows that change is a process, and that process takes time.

As for his time so far at Shuman, he said he’s “loving it."

Kaitlynn Riely: or 412-263-1707.

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