Wayne County declares public health emergency at juvenile jail

Wayne County executives signed a public health emergency order Wednesday for the Juvenile Detention Facility due to safety concerns from overcrowding and understaffing.

The order, signed by Wayne County Executive Warren Evans and Abdul El-Sayed, director of Department of Health, Human and Veteran Services, noted overcrowding at the Hamtramck facility has led to “violent incidents, accusations of physical and sexual assaults, an environment that is dangerous and not conducive to mental, physical or general health, or for the well-being of both residents and staff.”

The conditions have also resulted in staff shortages, the order stated, due to health emergencies and the “undesirability of working under these conditions.”

Officials with the juvenile detention center and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services were not immediately available for comment.

Evans spoke about the public health emergency on Tuesday night during his State of the County address. 

“The situation has become untenable for nearly 140 youths that are currently residing there. Extraordinary action has become necessary,” Evans said during his address.

The county’s call for a public health emergency order comes days after Michigan State Police launched an investigation into the alleged sexual assault of a 12-year-old boy at the juvenile detention center, the Detroit Free Press reported.  

The order stated that the main reason for overcrowding is lack of space at treatment facilities, which the state is responsible for. People who were meant to be sent to residential long-term rehabilitation and treatment facilities have been kept at the detention center. Also, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to result in a backlog of cases, the emergency order adds, which has perpetuated the overextended length of detention. For some, the wait has dragged on for years, the order said.

Evans said Tuesday night that as many as 65 people at the juvenile detention facility have already been sentenced and should have been placed elsewhere, the Free Press reported. In 2021, there were 68 people on average in the center. On Tuesday night, there were 137 people in the jail, the Free Press stated, while officials have previously said the facility’s capacity is 80.

Actions listed in the order to address the overcrowding include:

  • Establishment of an incident command center, led by El-Sayed
  • Reducing the number of people in the detention center
  • Speeding up the process to get people into treatment facilities
  • Create more facilities
  • Invest in increasing and retaining staff
  • Offer “immediate therapeutic services” for people at the juvenile facility
  • “Amend existing agreements” between the county, Third Circuit Court and state that “may be exacerbating the issue”

The state Senate Appropriations Committee was scheduled to discuss the juvenile center’s overcrowding issues Wednesday afternoon in Lansing. 

The order will remain in effect until the county’s local health officer, El-Sayed, determines that the threat to the public’s health and lives is “no longer present.”

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