This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
One day, a guard caught North Philadelphia native Jihid Mayes using social media at a juvenile detention facility when he was supposed to be doing school work.
Punishment was swift and forceful.
The guard asked him to step out of the classroom.
“As soon as I stepped out of the room, one guard held me and another punched me,” Mayes said Thursday in a hearing before Philadelphia’s City Council. “Then they made me go back to class.”
Mayes never told anyone, he said, partly because he wasn’t sure he’d be believed and partly because guards bribed students to keep quiet by sneaking them snacks.
Mayes’ testimony was among many chilling accounts delivered at Thursday’s Council hearing, which focused on conditions at youth placement facilities. The hearing comes 19 months after a guard at a residential facility for troubled children in West Philadelphia killed 17-year-old David Hess. It also comes amid a steep drop in the number of children sent to these facilities, either by the courts or through the child welfare system.
At present, there are about 900 Philadelphia children in residential placement. Some are in the juvenile justice system. Others end up at institutions due to extreme behavioral problems. The city has worked to reduce those numbers, and between 2012 and 2016, the number of delinquent youth in residential facilities declined 41 percent.
Advocates, however, say those who are still in the system suffer from over-aggressive disciplinary practices, inadequate schooling, and a system that lacks coordination and proper oversight.