Fixing Shuman: New leadership was needed for a turnaround

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In the spring, when Allegheny County Manager William McKain issued a report on conditions at Shuman Juvenile Detention Center, he said his list of recommendations was only a starting point.

County officials took another logical and important step last week when they announced that the facility's top two administrators, director William "Jack" Simmons and deputy director Lynette Drawn-Williamson, were out at Shuman. Earlier this year, the two had been suspended for one week each after a guard's arrest on charges of assaulting a resident and the state Department of Public Welfare's finding that the occurrence was not reported promptly.

Mr. McKain's report went far beyond that one incident and, though it didn't come right out and say that Shuman's problems started at the top, that was a reasonable inference based on its content.

The report dealt first with the work environment and morale, saying, "Employees don't trust management and management believes that poor performing employees are exaggerating situations that inevitably emerge at a juvenile detention facility." Shuman's leaders were told to improve staff relations, in part by conducting an anonymous survey and using the results to tackle problems with a newly established committee.

If county officials thought that was happening, Mr. Simmons and Ms. Drawn-Williamson still would be on the job.

The report also pointed out that Shuman's hiring practices were outside the norm. When part-timers were being selected, Shuman's administration didn't go through the county's human resources department. When hiring full-timers, candidates typically were selected from the part-time pool. The report did not explain how that had been allowed to persist, but the practice gave Shuman's leadership too much authority.

Other recommendations already have been implemented, including placing Shuman's security guards under the jurisdiction of the county police and adding three dozen new security cameras. More changes lie ahead, and the county also must figure out how to respond to a significant drop of youths assigned to Shuman.

New leadership was essential to halt Shuman's downward spiral, and an experienced person has been chosen to take over as director: William Stickman, former interim director of the county jail and deputy secretary of the state Department of Corrections. Credit county officials with acting decisively on behalf of troubled juveniles.

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