Three state lawmakers are urging the Haslam administration to consider reopening Taft Youth Development Center near Pikeville after mass escapes and a riot by teenage felons at a less secure facility in the middle of Nashville.
Further from the Chattanooga TFP (which includes information from AP in its report):
At the same time, the Tennessee State Employees Association is laying the problem at the feet of Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, citing cuts he’s made in the Department of Children’s Services.
On Monday night, 32 teens escaped from the Woodland Hills Youth Development Center. Just two days later, two dozen detainees broke into the yard wielding sticks and spraying a fire extinguisher. Last night, a special strike force team with the Department of Correction that is authorized to use non-lethal force, including tasers, was sent to the facility to provide security.
… In 2012, Haslam followed advice from then-DCS Commissioner Kate O’Day to shut down Taft, which supporters said had successfully housed the “worst of the worst” teen criminals in rural Bledsoe County for decades. O’Day called it a necessary cost-saving measure and insisted other youth centers were up to handling the youths.
On Wednesday, state Rep. Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, wrote to O’Day’s replacement, DCS Commissioner Jim Henry, that he and other lawmakers have “given the other Youth Centers two years to adjust and handle these youths” since Taft closed.
“However, due to escalating issues … we believe we cannot sit back any longer and watch as the violence continues to escalate,” Sexton wrote.
The letter was also signed by Rep. Ron Travis, R-Dayton, and Rep. Paul Bailey, R-Sparta.
From The Tennessean:
On Thursday, Gov. Bill Haslam asked DCS Commissioner Jim Henry to submit a report on the violence at Woodland Hills.
Henry said Thursday afternoon that report would be submitted quickly, but did not provide a specific time line.
To maintain order Thursday night, DCS requested that the Department of Correction offer assistance. The team, known as Strike Force One, is a highly trained specialized unit equipped to respond in correctional settings, a spokeswoman said.
Woodland Hills Superintendent Melvin Whitlow on Thursday authorized the officers to use non-lethal force. Longstanding policy at the facility has barred the use of force — including guns, stun guns or batons. Instead, facility guards rely on redirecting behavior or physical restraints.
Henry witnessed Wednesday night’s chaos behind a protective fence, watching as teens ran around an outdoor courtyard brandishing pipes, wooden planks and fire extinguishers under the glare of spotlights mounted on police helicopters.
“I was amazed at the frenzy,” he said. “I know we’ve got some tough kids in custody but it’s still strange seeing it firsthand.”
Dozens of teens were able to break out of the dorm buildings around 11:10 p.m. Wednesday by kicking out aluminum panels under windows, the same way teens escaped the facility Monday night.
Some of the teens were seen spraying the fire extinguishers into the air, creating a thick mist that mimicked smoke. Others used their makeshift tools to try and break into other buildings on the campus.
And, from WKRN:
Tennessee House Democrat leaders say this week’s violence and escapes at Nashville’s Woodland Hills facility for juvenile offenders is a direct result of budget cuts and a shrinking state government, but the Haslam administration says its numbers for the department overseeing the facility are different.
House Democrat leader Craig Fitzhugh pointed to a 40 percent budget reduction for the Department of Children Services (DCS) since Republican Governor Bill Haslam took office.
He told News 2 the DCS budget has gone from $66 million in 2009-2010, which was the last year of the previous Governor Phil Bredesen, to $39.2 million for the current fiscal year under Governor Haslam.
Haslam Administration spokesperson Lola Potter said its numbers for the 2014-2015 DCS budget were $50.6 million, up from $49.6 million for the previous fiscal year, and $46.2 million for 2012-2013.
Potter told News 2 in an email that “prior years because of the recession and ARRA (funds that were part of the federal stimulus program).
She indicated both DCS budgets did not include capital projects for the state agency, such as the $1.8 million slated for upgrades at the Woodland Hills facility.
There was other criticism beyond budget issues from Tennessee House Democrats.
Nashville Representative Sherry Jones points to lack of oversight for DCS since a legislative group she chaired called the Select Committee on Children and Youth was disbanded after Governor Haslam took office.
“We used to call [DCS] up here all the time to ask questions,” Jones told News 2 as she and Fitzhugh spoke from Legislative Plaza.
She is also critical for the closing of the Taft Youth Center in Bledsoe County two years ago.