Judge praises Butler County detention pact

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Butler County's president judge is calling last week's agreement between county commissioners and a new privately owned juvenile detention facility a "major relief" for the county court system.

"It was only a few years ago when we had a situation where we could not find a single bed available for secure detention in Pennsylvania, and we were forced to rent a room in a local hotel for three juveniles accused of robbery with a firearm, and we had to have them baby-sat by sheriff's deputies and juvenile probation officers,'' Common Pleas Judge Thomas Doerr said.

Now, Western Pennsylvania Child Care in Allegheny Township is open for business, offering three dozen beds in three levels of residence.

County commissioners last week voted 2-0 in favor of an agreement with the facility, which was developed by a partnership that includes Gregory Zappala, a Cranberry investment banker who is the brother of Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. and son of former state Supreme Court Justice Stephen A. Zappala Sr. It opened in late summer in Allegheny Clarion Valley Industrial Park in the northeast corner of the county.

Commissioner James Kennedy abstained, saying he was concerned about the center's prices, which are $200 per day for shelter care, $290 for secure detention and $330 for secure care with treatment. Judge Doerr acknowledged that the shelter-care rate is higher than some other facilities in the area but said Western Pennsylvania Child Care is offering video conferencing for court proceedings, which will save transportation costs. Another advantage is that the center is licensed to provide three levels of care, he said. "That could come in handy in the middle of night when a shelter-care person needs to be moved to secure detention.''

Costs and availability at other centers within a comparable distance will be considered when placement decisions are made, he said.

"The real issue is bed availability for secure detention. Those beds can be hard to find, at any price. We're just glad to have new beds available,'' he said.

The judge said the county doesn't put many juveniles in placement. The number hovered around a dozen last week.

Butler County Controller John R. McMillin said Western Pennsylvania Child Care costs more than other such facilities in the region. He said shelter care by Cray Youth and Family Services in New Castle, Lawrence County, is $125 a day. Adelphoi Village in Latrobe charges $182 for men in intensive residential care and $217 for women in intensive residential care, and $289 for men and women in Adelphoi's secure program.

Judge Doerr began placing juveniles at Western Pennsylvania immediately after the center opened, before the contract was signed. The commissioners said they will make the contract retroactive to the initial placements.

Karen Kane can be reached at kkane@post-gazette.com or 724-772-9180.


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