Glen Mills Reform School Abuse Problems Highlight “Broken Model” for Juvenile Delinquents: Editorial

Amid reports of mistreatment, exploitation and physical abuse at Glen Mills reform school in Pennsylvania, which has since been shut down by authorities, a recent editorial published in the Washington Post calls for an end of use for all such institutions for juvenile delinquents remaining in the U.S.

The editorial (subscription required) was written by Amber Armstrong, a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania, who calls the ideology of such reformatories, which date back hundreds of years, are misguided and likely to result in similar reform school abuse problems to what was recently uncovered at Glen Mills School.

Following a recent report by the Philadelphia Inquirer, which described cases of serious violence and abuse at the boys reform school, an investigation by Pennsylvania’s Department of Public Welfare announced an Emergency Removal Order for Glen Mills Schools last month. At that time, there were only 64 students remaining at the reform school, down from a peak of more than 1,000 students.

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The Glen Mills School was first opened in 1826, and has housed boys from across the nation, many of whom were sent to the reform school through a court order due to juvenile delinquent behavioral problems. However, the investigation revealed rampant reform school abuse problems, including physical violence, and efforts to threaten children attending the school into silence.

After the first Philadelphia Inquirer article was published, states and cities began withdrawing juvenile delinquents from the Glen Mills reform school, and Executive Director Randy Ireson stepped down, claiming a leave of absence for health reasons.

The Post’s editorial notes that the investigation revealed the school’s employees were not following state and internal policies, and had not for decades, but says it is the ideology behind the creation of such reform schools, which resulted from the belief that a rigid, incarcerated life would benefit juvenile delinquents, set up the potential, and perhaps inevitability, of such abuses hundreds of years before.

Armstrong calls for the nation to discard the “broken model” which was, ironically, originally designed to remove youths from the prison system before the advent of a juvenile court system. While believing reform schools to be more merciful than prison, originators actually just copied the prison model.

Armstrong postulates that the system targeted poor and minority children unfairly and failed to offer children any mercy or help them into adulthood, or even reduce the likelihood of repeat offenses, in addition to the risk of reform school abuse problems.

In the case of Glen Mills, state officials found that children were abused, assaulted, forced and goaded into fighting one another, had medical treatment withheld, were threatened into silence and were overall kept in an unsafe environment.

On April 8, state officials revoked all of the school’s licenses. Charges against two former Glen Mills school counselors, arrested in September 2018 before the investigation into the facility on charges of abuse, have been dropped in recent weeks.

Attorneys for the school have said all of the allegations are false and unsubstantiated claims filed by former students and staff members who had been fired for performance deficiencies.

As a result of the problems, former students are now pursuing Glen Mills school abuse lawsuits, some of which seek class action status to pursue damages for thousands of children who have been abused at the institution.


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