Democratic state Sen. Eric Stewart and Republican state Rep. Cameron Sexton have both issued news releases criticizing the Haslam administration proposal to close Taft Youth Center.
Both are reproduced below.
News release from Sen. Eric Stewart:
PIKEVILLE – State Senator Eric Stewart called for state officials to immediately stop plans to close Taft Youth Development Center and cut 169 jobs in a rural area with a double-digit unemployment rate.
“This proposal would punish nearly 200 Tennesseans for doing their jobs and making a difference in the lives of young men,” Stewart said. “We can’t afford to lose any more jobs in this area. People are hurting.”
The Taft Youth Development Center has the highest rehabilitation success rate among five such facilities, even though Taft accepts more aggressive youth offenders than the other centers. Yet in budget hearings this week, administration officials discussed closing Taft under 5 percent reductions requested by Gov. Bill Haslam.
Officials would not speak publicly on how much money the state would save by closing the facility, instead claiming that the jobs could be replaced by a new prison in Bledsoe County. Stewart said such job replacement would take at least a year and would reduce the overall number of available jobs in the county, which already has an unemployment rate of 10.5 percent.
“I was always taught that doing a good job in this country would reap its rewards,” Stewart said. “Instead, this proposal is telling our workers that doing a good job gets you no job at all.”
Stewart and a bipartisan group of lawmakers are calling on Gov. Haslam to tour Taft and make his decision based on what’s best for the children, the workers and the community. The Governor has not indicated if he will accept the invitation.
“I’m tired of folks sitting up in Nashville and acting like they know what’s best for rural Tennesseans,” Stewart said. “It’s time they started looking in the faces of the people they’re affecting. It starts with Taft.”
News release from Rep. Cameron Sexton:
Nashville – Yesterday, Representative Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) sent correspondence to Governor Haslam concerning the Department of Children Service’s proposed closing of Taft Youth Center in Bledsoe County.
“I felt it was important for the Governor to have more detailed information on Taft than was provided at the budget hearings in Knoxville,” commented Representative Sexton.
In the letter, Representative Sexton gave additional information on four main points from Commissioner O’Day’s testimony. They were the juvenile crime rate, the cost per offender per day to house an offender, necessary upgrades to the facility and standards/accreditation.
Commissioner O’Day testified that the overall crime rate (including juvenile crime) was down and further implied there was a less of a need to have five youth facilities with that many beds.
Based on the TBI’s crime statistics reports, male juvenile crimes were down by 0.013% from 2008 to 2010. Which is not a statistically significant reduction. However, crimes against persons did increase in areas like Rape, Aggravated Assault, Arson, Motor Vehicle Theft, Robbery and Drug Offenses.
Representative Sexton said, “The increase in violent acts against individuals by male juveniles warrants keeping the youth development centers operational, especially Taft.”
Taft Youth Development Center is the most restrictive facility for juvenile offenders. Taft’s population is comprised of the more serious and older delinquents. The sentences are more adult oriented or they are serving a third commitment. Also, if offenders have exhibited severe behavioral problems at one of the other Youth Development Centers in which they can not control the offender, it results in the offender being transferred to Taft.
Also, in Commissioner O’Day’s presentation, she mentioned that Taft is the oldest facility and would need additional upgrades of $37 million to bring it up to standard.
Taft is the only Youth Development Center that runs a Water Treatment Plant, and pays the utility bills for TRICOR which together accounts for $400,000 in expenses. The review of maintenance expenses of all Youth Development Centers indicates Taft is the lowest when subtracting out the water treatment plant. And last year, Taft returned $827,800 of unused funds back to the Department.
“For a facility that is described as the oldest, needing significant upgrades, and most expensive; it appears that Taft is the least expensive to maintain,” stated Representative Sexton.
This year, the Department of Correction is building a new addition to the Southeast Correction Facility; which includes 1,444 new maximum to medium security beds, new administrative buildings, kitchen and cafeteria and warehouse for $145 million. That is an approximate average cost of $100,000 per inmate.
The average cost based on the Southeast Correction model would equate to a $9 million dollar project at Taft for 90 offenders. “Taft was budgeted for $5 million in upgrades to the dormitory, as well as to the kitchen and cafeteria. I just do not see how the department got their $37 million to renovate Taft.” Representative Sexton said.
Representative Sexton does not understand why Taft is being targeted by the Department.
“Taft passed accreditation in June 2009, passed fire marshal inspections and food inspections. The information being given out by the department does not add up. I hope the Commissioner is not being given poor information from within her department,” Representative Sexton concluded.