Juvenile Detention Center Staff Accused of Sexually Abusing Kids and Forcing One to Drink Toilet Water

A deluge of horrific allegations have come out in the last few weeks against staff members at a juvenile detention center in Lima, Pennsylvania.
A toilet (GK Hart/Vikki Hart​/Getty Images)
A toilet (GK Hart/Vikki Hart/Getty Images)

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A deluge of horrific allegations have come out in the last few weeks against staff members at a juvenile detention center in Lima, Pennsylvania: forcing a mentally ill child to drink toilet water, leaving another covered in her own excrement for three days, and taking minor girls to “private parties” where they were sexually abused, just to detail a few.


The allegations of sexual, physical, and mental abuse against children under the care of the Delaware County Juvenile Detention Center were made public through a lawsuit filed Wednesday and a letter public defenders sent to several officials earlier this month. Allegations within the letter—which contained affidavits from current and former staff—quickly caused the facility to be emptied. 

The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services also said it’d investigate, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. 

But the problem has been rampant in the facility, which detains children from ages 10 to 18, for more than a decade and literally spans generations, attorneys said. In one case, both a mother and daughter were allegedly harassed by guards. Other incidents allegedly took place as recently as last year.

The detention center housed a total of 782 kids from 2019 to 2020, according to the lawsuit. And they were described as disproportionately children of color. 

The most recent allegations surfaced this week through a lawsuit brought by two people who said they were abused at the detention center in their youth. 

A man described in the lawsuit only as John Doe #1 alleged that a guard anally raped him when he was 16 years old. He said he was told that he and his entire family would be killed if he informed anyone that he was raped. He was also physically abused during his time in the facility, according to the lawsuit. 


Ultimately, he didn’t reveal that he’d been raped until 2020—almost four years after it allegedly occurred.

Also in the lawsuit, a woman described as Jane Doe #1 alleged that multiple guards took her to “private parties” when she was 16 and 17 years old, provided her with drugs including Xanax, and sexually abused her and other minor girls. A female guard was aware but did nothing to prevent the “parties,” the lawsuit alleges. 

Jane Doe was in the facility about six or seven times between approximately 2006 to 2009. Almost a decade after she was released, one guard allegedly contacted her and sent sexually explicit messages. After that, a different guard contacted her 16-year-old daughter on Instagram to say he wanted to “link up,” according to the lawsuit. 

John and Jane Doe’s attorneys claim that employees of the facility were aware of or took part in the violence and neglect they experienced.

“Regardless of what a child has gone through and is going through—whether it’s mental health issues, personal issues, whatever the reason is—it’s never OK to abuse a child or allow abuse of a child; or protect yourself, or your reputation, or your pockets at the expense of the protection of kids,” Brian Kent, one of the attorneys involved in the lawsuit, said. 

Such abuse and neglect have essentially become ingrained in juvenile detention facilities nationwide, the lawsuit alleges. More than 230 people have come forward to allege they were abused at a state-run youth detention center in New Hampshire, for instance. 


A 2018 survey from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, a federal agency, found that the rate of sexual victimization reported by youth in juvenile facilities had fallen to 7.1% that year, compared to 9.5% in 2012. In that survey, less than 6% of kids reported sexual misconduct from staff, and just about 2% reported that misconduct involved force or coercion. However, the issue is likely underreported.

Kent said that Jane and John Doe hope to hold every individual and entity that had a role in their physical, sexual, and emotional abuse accountable. He said attorneys on the case are already in touch with other alleged victims. 

Between the March 12 letter from the Delaware County Public Defender’s Office and the more recent lawsuit, staff members at the Delaware County Juvenile Detention Center have now been accused of:

  • Forcing a mentally ill child to drink toilet water after she attempted to suffocate herself by swallowing clothing
  • Punching a child in the face, leaving him with a black eye
  • Leaving a mentally ill child in seclusion and covered in her own excrement for three days without running water or a shower
  • Standing by as a child screamed because she was wrapped in clothing so tightly that her face had lost color and it had to be cut away 
  • Telling a child who wanted to report misconduct, “Do you really think a judge is going to believe a bunch of juvenile delinquents over a corrections officer?”
  • Putting the head of a child, who was between the ages of 12 and 14, through a window lined with metal wire mesh during an argument
  • Bragging about their plans to restrain a 17-year-old pregnant girl in a way that would induce a miscarriage


Some children that were held at the facility had behavioral issues, were in trouble due to truancy, or were facing delinquency proceedings, adjudication, or disposition—the juvenile equivalent of waiting to be found guilty or innocent and sentenced. The intent of the juvenile justice system isn’t to punish the children like the adult process, however, but to rehabilitate them and provide care, according to the lawsuit. Yet that’s not always the case. 

The Delaware County facility’s former lead clinician would sometimes wonder why a child was even in the facility at all, she said in an affidavit attached to the public defenders’ letter. 

While some of the children had been accused of violent offenses, she said, others were there because they violated the terms of their juvenile probation: missing curfew or going outside the bounds of their electronic home monitor. And a few kids were victims themselves, held there for “safety reasons,” the clinician wrote. One was a rape survivor.

One former clinical case manager who worked at the detention center from November 2016 to July 2018 even wrote in an affidavit that he ultimately quit his job and went to law school to “expose and correct abuses” in juvenile facilities.

Wednesday’s lawsuit, which reiterates several of the allegations featured in the public defenders’ letter, named the Delaware County Juvenile Detention Center and the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, which licenses and regulates such facilities. The Child Guidance Resource Centers, which was contracted to provide mental health services at the detention center, is also named as a defendant. Its current and former  employees were the ones who spoke out in a series of affidavits this month. 

A representative for the Delaware County Juvenile Detention Center or Delaware County President Judge Kevin Kelly, who ordered the facility closed this month, could not immediately be reached for comment.

The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services said it could not comment on pending litigation, but Erin James, a spokesperson for the agency, wrote in an email: “DHS is committed to a comprehensive and thorough investigation of allegations raised against the Delaware County Juvenile Detention Center.”

The investigation is ongoing, James said, and will include interviews with youth formerly placed in the facility and staff, plus a review of complaints, past incidents, and complaints to a child abuse hotline. 

Colleen McNichol, the CEO of the Child Guidance Resource Centers, also declined to comment on the lawsuit itself but noted that her nonprofit supports the request for a full investigation into the allegations and stands with the clinicians who raised concerns. 

“We are conducting an internal review and are committed to taking necessary actions as needed. We are devastated to hear the breadth of alleged abuse at DCJDC,” the nonprofit said in a statement on its website. “Child Guidance remains dedicated to ensuring children’s safety at home, school, and in the community.”