Gov. orders review of reform school over abuse allegations
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf has ordered a review of complaints against the oldest reform school in the country after a newspaper investigation detailed decades of alleged abuse and cover-ups at the campus.
Lawmakers and children’s advocates on Wednesday called for the state to launch an investigation into allegations of abuse of students at the Glen Mills Schools, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) west of Philadelphia.
Wolf directed the state agency that oversees Glen Mills to put together a dossier of abuse complaints and other activity the school.
“Gov. Wolf is deeply disturbed by the recent revelations about Glen Mills and he commends the brave individuals that came forward,” J.J. Abbott, a spokesman for the governor, told the Philadelphia Inquirer.
The Inquirer investigation , published last month, described a culture of physical abuse at the school. The newspaper looked at internal documents, court records, incident reports and conducted more than 40 interviews with students and staff. The report describes school leaders turning a blind eye to beatings and failing to vet or train counselors.
“There are kids who can’t come home because they are getting abused,” James Johnson, a former Glen Mills student who went on to become a counselor, told the newspaper. “I’ve seen people thrown through doors, like it was a movie.” He quit in 2015 over what was happening to students.
The allegations ranged from severe beatings for students who made minor infractions, a staffer breaking a boy’s broken jaw after the student made a joke about his sister, and other boys getting choked for running away. Broken bones, serious bruises and threats warning students not to talk are detailed.
The school said it takes the allegations very seriously and they are working with state and local leaders to address concerns.
“The school has zero-tolerance for violent behaviors against students,” the school said in a statement, adding Glen Mills is regulated and licensed each year by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, which approved full licensure in 2018.
In the last five years, at least 13 staffers at Glen Mills have been fired and dozens more have been retrained or reprimanded over assaults on 15 students at the school, the newspaper reported.
The school said in a statement Thursday the staff deals with extremely challenging young people and they are trained in handling potentially violent behaviors.
Glen Mills is the oldest reform school in the country, established in 1826 as the Philadelphia House of Refuge. Set amid the rolling hills of Delaware County, it looks more like a prestigious prep school than a facility for juvenile delinquents. Boys wind up in the facility in two ways: because they are involved in the criminal justice system in some capacity (for a parole violation, for example, or for gang participation); or they are dependents like foster kids who the state hasn’t been able to find a suitable placement.
According to the facility’s website, students have come from around Pennsylvania as well as California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia. Some come from as far away as Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Bermuda. Its top-tier athletic program has yielded NFL recruits.
New employees are trained and staff are re-certified annually using this program. The school has zero-tolerance for violent behaviors against students. The school is also regulated and licensed each year by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, which approved full licensure in 2018.
After the Inquirer investigation was published, agencies in Los Angeles, Houston, Pittsburgh, and other jurisdictions around the country have started to pull their students from the school. Glen Mills stands to lose more than 100 students, or nearly half of its enrollment, the newspaper reported. Philadelphia acted first, removing 51 boys.
Although a privately run nonprofit, Glen Mills receives taxpayer money, including a tuition of $52,000 per year for each boy from Philadelphia.