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History of the YSC
The Youth Study Center began its existence in 1909 as the House of Detention. This early facility, run by a Court appointed Board of Managers, sought to keep children whose delinquency was not of a serious nature from appearing in formal court proceedings. The residents consisted mainly of status offenders, abused and neglected children. The facility’s program was primarily educational in addition to providing medical, psychiatric and psychological evaluations.

By the 1940’s, the facility was beginning to experience overcrowding. Judge Frank Smith, then Chairman of the Board of Managers, led a drive to obtain appropriations for a new facility. In 1948, a bond issue was passed and on May 15, 1952, the Youth Study Center was opened at 2020 Pennsylvania Avenue. This new facility, in addition to satisfying space requirements, reflected the prevailing social climate, which emphasized human relations, social responsibilities and the need to deal with the increasing number of serious offenses being committed by juveniles.

A continual steady rise in the resident population and changes in juvenile regulations occurred during the 1960’s, which would affect future detention standards at the facility. Due process for juveniles was a dominant issue and policies were adopted that de-institutionalized all but the most serious offenders. During the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, the YSC admitted an increasing number of violent youths, who while housed along with juveniles charged with less serious crimes, contributed to a growing problem of overcrowding. Staff and space shortages were common and programming was often neglected.
The impact of the laws passed during the 1970’s that forbade the housing of status offenders in secure detention facilities was far reaching. They led to the development of the Detention Alternative Program (DAP), the forerunner to the Community-Based Detention Services (CBDS) program.

This program served to divert status offenders and abused and neglected children from admission to YSC and thus helped to control the facility’s census. Additionally, since 1975, the Youth Study Center has been operating under a federal court decree, the Santiago Consent Decree, which limits the population to 105 and spells out the type of offenses and circumstances under which alleged delinquents may be held.

In 1982, State Bill 2603 dissolved the Board of Managers and awarded to the City of Philadelphia the authority to operate the YSC. The facility was placed in the Department of Public Welfare, later changed to the Department of Human Services (DHS), and while under the DHS umbrella, initiatives were instituted to better serve the needs of the residents. These included an assessment of existing services, efforts to recruit and train staff to be better qualified to effectively deliver services to the target population and the development of services aimed at specifically caring for children. In 1989, as a part of realignment at DHS, the Youth Study Center became a part of the newly created Division of Juvenile Justice Services (DJJS).

In the 90’s, the Division of Juvenile Justice Services faced new challenges, such as an amendment to the Juvenile Act, allowing for the direct file of juvenile cases to adult court where the seriousness of the charge warranted such a move. Juveniles whose cases were sent to the adult court system were held in a separate section of the Youth Study Center, on the fifth floor, under the supervision of the Philadelphia Prison system, separate from the rest of the juvenile population. In 2001, these juveniles were removed from the Youth Study Center and integrated into the adult system.