Four lawsuits were filed claiming abuse in Pennsylvania’s juvenile facilities

The entrance to the state-run Loysville Youth Development Center in Loysville, Pa., is seen on Monday, May 20, 2024. A set of newly filed lawsuits claims children who were sent to juvenile detention centers in Pennsylvania, including Loysville, suffered a range of sexual abuse, including violent rapes. (AP Photo/Mark Scolforo)

By Associated Press

May 24, 2024

The four lawsuits filed by 66 people claim physical and sexual abuse incidents at some of the state-run juvenile detention centers and similar facilities in Pennsylvania.

Dozens of children suffered physical and sexual abuse including violent rapes inside juvenile detention centers and similar facilities in Pennsylvania, according to four related lawsuits filed Wednesday.

The lawsuits describe how 66 people, now adults, say they were victimized by guards, nurses, supervisors, and others. Some attacks were reported to other staffers and were ignored or met with disbelief, the lawsuits allege.

The lawsuits name the state-run Loysville Youth Development Center, South Mountain Secure Treatment Unit, and North Central Secure Treatment Unit in Danville; Merakey USA’s Northwestern Academy outside Shamokin, which closed in 2016; and facilities run by Tucson, Arizona-based VisionQuest National Ltd. and Villanova-based Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health.

Department of Human Services press secretary Brandon Cwalina declined comment on the lawsuit but said the agency has zero tolerance for abuse and harassment. He urged anyone suspecting child abuse at any facility to call Pennsylvania’s ChildLine at 1-800-932-0313.

Merakey said it will comprehensively review the allegations, some of which date back 25 years, and if they prove credible will have an obligation to help the former residents heal. But the company’s statement said it has found no records corroborating the alleged conduct, and staff who worked there at the time said they have no knowledge that such abuse was reported.

Devereux vice president Leah Yaw also declined to address specific allegations, but said it has worked to prevent abuse and improve safety by including training and outside accreditation on sexual abuse prevention, improving the pipeline for people to work in nonprofit behavioral health and spending millions to improve its facilities and technology.

Messages seeking comment also were left for VisionQuest.

Eighteen of the plaintiffs describe rapes and other sexual abuse at Devereux facilities. One says that when he was 14 and sedated during “major anger outbreaks,” a staff member sexually abused him while he was restrained “so he could not fight back.”

Other claims say children at the state-run facilities “have long been subjected to a culture of exploitation, violence and rampant sexual abuse” committed by guards, counselors and other staff. The sexual abuse “has ranged from inappropriate strip searches to rape using violent physical force,” according to their lawsuit, which alleges negligence and failed oversight.

One plaintiff says a violent rape by a counselor at North Central left her pregnant as a teenager about 20 years ago, and another staffer didn’t believe her when she reported the rape. The lawsuit doesn’t describe what happened regarding her pregnancy.

Merakey USA, which operated Northwestern Academy before it shut down in 2016, is accused of a “culture of sexual abuse and brutality,” including “inappropriate and criminal sexual relationships with children,” who were granted or denied privileges to pressure them into sex.

That lawsuit says one 14-year-old girl who had not been sexually active was forced into sex acts by two Northwestern Academy staffers, and when she complained, she was accused of lying and her home leave passes were removed.

A male therapist then had her write about her sexual encounters during twice-a-week sessions for five months, telling her it was treatment for sex addiction and for a book he was writing. When she asked for the book upon leaving the facility, its director told her the book did not exist and her experience “would not be considered mental health treatment,” the lawsuit says


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