DHS Opens Western Secure Treatment Unit, Expanding Options For Care For Youth in the Juvenile Justice System (November 13, 2023)

On November 9, 2023, PA Department of Human Services (DHS) Secretary Dr. Val Arkoosh announced that DHS has begun serving youth at the Western Secure Treatment Unit (WESTU), a new secure residential facility in Butler County that will treat delinquent youth committed to state care by county juvenile courts. WESTU will be the seventh program of DHS’ Bureau of Juvenile Justice Services (BJJS) and increases the state’s capacity to care for and treat adjudicated youth.

“Due to limited availability of privately-operated care and thus, limited options for care at all levels of the juvenile justice system, we are currently seeing an increased reliance on facilities operated by DHS. While DHS does not control admissions or discharges for our facilities, we are committed to being a partner in finding solutions to this challenge so adjudicated youth get the care and treatment they need,” said Secretary Arkoosh. “Opening WESTU is an investment in more options for high quality care and support for adjudicated youth.”

Western Secure Treatment Unit opened for care on Monday, November 6, and will be operated and overseen by BJJS but staffed through a contract with Rite of Passage, a national provider of services for justice-involved youth. All staff are trained by BJJS, held to the same standards and expectations of Commonwealth staff at other BJJS facilities, and programming and treatment offered at Western Secure Treatment Unit mirrors offerings throughout the BJJS system. Twelve youth will be placed during the first two weeks. The census will increase one youth per week (4-5 youth per month) until a maximum capacity of 60 is reached.

BJJS operates other secure facilities in Franklin, Luzerne, Montour, and Perry counties. Each of these facilities serve youth adjudicated delinquent by a juvenile court judge who then orders where the youth is to receive treatment and rehabilitation. Length of stay required of youth is set by the judge, and DHS works to provide trauma-informed care and treatment to youth during their commitment as well as education and training opportunities to help prepare youth for their return home.

Western Secure Treatment Unit is the second facility DHS opened in the last year to help meet systemic challenges currently facing the juvenile justice system. DHS continues to work with private providers and other state and county partners to explore options to establish additional treatment and care options to help youth involved in the juvenile justice system. 

“As we meet the immediate need of helping youth get care and treatment, we also must work together at all levels of government on prevention, intervention, and diversion strategies that support and engage youth prior to involvement with the justice system,” said Arkoosh. For more information on DHS and BJJS, visit www.dhs.pa.gov.