In September, a 16-year-old boy was arrested and charged with robbery in Carlisle.
Police said he had offered to buy a cellphone from a man using an internet application, but ran off when the man handed him the phone. The victim gave chase and when he caught up, the boy pulled out a folding knife and pointed it at the victim, according to police.
Pennsylvania law requires that any juveniles age 15 or older charged with certain felonies like robbery or aggravated assault be charged as adults if certain circumstances are met, such as a weapon being used during the crime.
Despite no one being injured in this particular crime, this meant the boy was charged as an adult.
Magisterial District Judge Jonathan Birbeck set bail at $29,000, sending the boy to Cumberland County Prison because he was unable to pay, according to court records.
The boy stayed in the adult jail for more than a week before his case was withdrawn and moved to juvenile court.
Since the beginning of 2014, at least nine youths have been charged in adult court in Cumberland County, according to a review of court records conducted by The Sentinel. Only four of those cases resulted in adult convictions, but most of the youths spent time in the county jail, according to court records.
Every time a juvenile is brought into a prison or jail, special rules apply.
“The general rule is when you have a juvenile in custody they have to be out of sight and sound of adult offenders,” former Cumberland County Prison Warden Earl Reitz said.
The Sentinel spoke with Reitz prior to his retirement on Jan. 25.
That rule came into effect with the passage of the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act in 2003, Reitz said.
Prior to that, Reitz said juveniles who were brought into the jail were treated the same as any other inmate.
“PREA changed all of that,” Reitz said.
Because so few juveniles are brought into the Cumberland County jail, when it does happen, an entire housing unit has to be opened to house that child. This not only secludes the child out of sight and sound of the adult population, but it greatly increases the costs.
Each housing unit has to be manned 24 hours a day by staff. The daily salary cost to have someone man a duty station is a minimum of more than $400, according to Reitz, but that is an underestimate of the cost.
Reitz said opening a housing unit on a temporary basis for a situation like a juvenile being held pretrial would likely require an extensive amount of overtime. To fully open a housing unit requires the hiring of five new employees to account for three shifts, paid time off, weekends and holidays, Reitz said.
He said a recent estimate put the cost of opening a new housing unit at roughly $250,000 per year for salary and benefits.
Because of the cost, Reitz said he tries to find housing in another county for juveniles.
York County has a housing unit permanently set up for juveniles.
Cumberland County has to pay to house inmates in other counties, but that cost is usually around $60 to $70 per day, far cheaper than the cost to open a new housing unit.
The jail is required to provide educational services to juveniles while they are incarcerated. Regardless of what district the juvenile was in at the time of arrest, the school district where the jail is housed provides those services.
In Cumberland County, the jail is in Middlesex Township, which is in the Cumberland Valley School District.
Under current law, juveniles charged with adult offenses are not allowed to be held in juvenile facilities. Reitz said changing the law to allow for that when appropriate may elevate some of the issues and offer better outcomes when juveniles are charged.
“They already have the systems in place,” he said. “If I had to keep [a juvenile] we could do it, but it’s going to come at a hell of an expense.”