Tag Archives: juvenile

Special session to avoid $60M fed funding loss?

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee officials are scrambling to avoid losing $60 million in federal road funding because of a new state law that runs afoul of zero-tolerance standards for underage drivers who have been drinking.

Officials with the state Transportation Department in a teleconference Monday urged the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to hold off on a formal decision to cut the state’s road funding by 8 percent until after reviewing arguments that another state law should keep Tennessee in compliance.

The federal agency said it would rule on the state’s claim by the end of the week, TDOT spokeswoman B.J. Doughty said.

Federal guidelines require a strict 0.02 percent allowable blood alcohol content for drivers under the legal drinking age. The new Tennessee law raises that limit to 0.08 for 18- to 20-year-olds but also metes out the stronger penalties for offenders. Continue reading

Judge pushes oversight of juvenile offenders to age 25

Young criminal offenders would be under oversight of the state’s juvenile justice system until they reach age 25 instead of 19 under a proposal being pushed by Shelby County Juvenile Court Judge Dan Michael, according to the Commercial Appeal.

“What it would do is it would give us longer with those kids who are on the fence, who probably haven’t hurt anyone other than scared them to death, who we know may need another two years. That if we don’t hold them for those two years, they’re liable to go out and do something even worse,” said Michael.

…”The law currently says juvenile court should have jurisdiction until 19 years of age. I’m taking out 19 and plugging in 25. It changes nothing else but the age.”

But that one word change in the bill would create sweeping changes in the juvenile court system if passed. Juveniles who commit a crime before their 18th birthday would have the ability to remain in the juvenile court system until they turn 25, depending on the crime. However, a judge could still file a motion to transfer the juvenile to adult court if the offense warranted it, Michael said.

Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich said she would need to see the bill’s language to better understand Michael’s proposal, but changing the age of jurisdiction would prompt a long, complicated process.

“First of all, if you were to increase the number of individuals that would be monitored and supervised by (Department of Children’s Services), they don’t have the resources to do that,” Weirich said. “That would take additional funds, additional personnel…”

Weirich was more open to the idea of blended sentencing, where a juvenile court imposes both juvenile and adult sanctions simultaneously, with the adult sentence suspended. If the offender completes the juvenile sentence without incident, oftentimes they do not have to serve the adult sentence. If the juvenile violates the conditions of the first sentence, he or she may be required to serve the adult sentence.

Herenton’s push for state contract to house juvenile offenders gets support

The Shelby County Commission Monday approved, on an 8-2 vote, a resolution urging the state Department of Children’s Service to send juvenile offenders to NewPath Restorative Campuses, a new firm founded by former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton, reports the Commercial Appeal.

In May, Herenton presented to the commission his plan for NewPath: two 200-bed facilities on 40 acres in Frayser and Millington that would provide wraparound services that include medical and mental health care and educational and vocational training.

There is nothing like it in existence in Tennessee and it “will be an exemplary model for the nation,” Herenton told the commission.

Juvenile offenders from Shelby County are being sent to facilities outside the county, taking with them $17 million in funding spent to care for them, Herenton told the commission in his May presentation.

NewPath, a nonprofit, would hire hundreds of people at each facility.

Herenton said studies have found that when juveniles are housed close to home, they are less likely to offend again.

Commissioners Mark Billingsley and Walter Bailey abstained from the vote.

Bailey noted his opposition to facilities for juveniles and said he didn’t know enough about the proposal.

“On other hand I must say parenthetically, I don’t subscribe to privatizing penal facilities as a rule. You have to do a lot of selling to convince me otherwise,” Bailey said.

Life sentence for 16-year-old inspires Sparks bill

State Rep. Mike Sparks, inspired by reporting on a 16-year-old Nashville girl sentenced to life in prison after killing a man in 2004, is sponsoring a bill on police dealings with juvenile crime suspects, reports the Daily News Journal.

The bill (HB1449) would require minors to be advised of their rights and that a parent or guardian must be present for any interview with police and the interview be recorded on video when juveniles are suspected of breaking a state or federal law.

“Not everyone has access to high-priced lawyers to bail them out. My job is to help represent the people who don’t have a voice. We need to help these people,” said Sparks, admitting he hasn’t watched the documentary yet.

Sparks said the legislation is inspired by another documentary he learned about from constituent Kathy Hines, who is also the chairwoman of TN-ZERO Crime Task Force.

She was inspired by the story of Cyntoia Brown, who is serving a sentence for the 2004 murder of a 43-year-old man in Nashville, Hines said.

Brown, who was 16 years old at the time of the crime, said she feared for her life so she shot the victim. She was convicted in 2006 and sentenced to life in prison.

Hines said she recently watched the 2012 PBS documentary about Brown, “Me Facing Life: Cyntoia’s Story.” (Note: It’s online HERE.)

“I was really shocked by watching it,” Hines said, adding she then called Sparks and told him about the need for more protection for juvenile suspects. “The whole thing bothered me because there was nobody there for her.”

Sparks said he agreed to support the law change because he is concerned about how much the state spends on housing juvenile offenders who didn’t know their rights when they were questioned.

“A lot of folks only look at how we can tie a noose around someone’s neck and strengthen it,” Sparks said.

Note: The Nashville Scene did a lengthy story on the Brown case in 2011, HERE.

Approved bill sets up ‘safety centers’ for juveniles violating curfew

The Tennessee Senate approved a bill Monday that will let Memphis set up juvenile safety centers around the city for minors who violate curfew, reports the Commercial Appeal.

The bill passed the Senate in a 32-0 vote and likely will receive approval in the House before the end of the legislative session — possibly next week, said Sen. Sara Kyle, D-Memphis and the bill’s sponsor. (Note: It’s SB666, sponsored by Rep. Karen Camper in the House, where it has cleared committees and awaits approval in a House floor vote.)

Modeled after a program in Baltimore, the bill would give police officers the option to take juveniles who violate curfew to city-operated safety centers where they can receive counseling. Currently, officers can only take them home, which is sometimes complicated by family situations, or to juvenile detention, which counts on their records.

“This program has worked in other places,” Kyle said. “It’s an opportunity to help both the child and the community.”

Mayor A C Wharton, who asked for the bill last year following a number of high-profile crime incidents involving minors, acknowledged that juveniles rarely get picked up for curfew violations — an admission that, in an election year, is sure to raise questions about whether the overnight centers will be worth the cost.

Larry Scroggs, Juvenile Court chief administrative officer, didn’t return calls seeking information about the number of curfew violations per year.

Court praises policeman for not shooting knife-wielding 14-year-old

A state appellate court this week offered rare praise for the actions of Knoxville Police Department officer who risked his own life to avoid shooting a 14-year-old girl as she threatened him with a knife, reports the News Sentinel.

KPD Officer Thomas Thurman is being lauded for his handling of a July 2012 incident previously cloaked in secrecy as it involved a juvenile charged in Knox County Juvenile Court. With just a handful of exceptions, the public is barred from reviewing juvenile court records.

The Tennessee Court of Appeals spent several pages of its nine-page opinion in the girl’s case detailing Thurman’s actions as told by Thurman himself in testimony.

(Note: The full opinion is HERE. Basically, Thurmond answered a call about ‘some vague problem involving a foster child’ and, after being admitted into the home, wound up with the girl coming at him with a 10-inch knife.)

“As soon as I seen her, you know, I tried to play the situation down some and just tell her, ‘Hey stop that,’ you know, ‘Put down the knife,’ ” he said.

She didn’t. Thurman began easing his gun out of his holster as she began walking down the steps. But, then, in a split second he said felt much longer, Thurman decided two things — he was going to get stabbed but he was not going to shoot the girl.

“I just knew I was going to get stuck,” he testified. “I just didn’t know how bad it was going to be.”

He swapped his gun for a stun gun and fired just as the girl reached him. The knife flew out of her hand, hitting his leg, and the girl crumpled onto the stairs, crying, “sorry, sorry, sorry.” The knife did not cut Thurman.

…“Before we address the issue on appeal, we note that the record reveals, and the parties, the Criminal Court, and this Court all have acknowledged, that Officer Thurman did a commendable job during the very dangerous incident upon which this case is based,” the justices wrote. “Officer Thurman’s professionalism and ability to think clearly during this life-threatening incident resulted in a resolution that avoided injury or death. The outcome of the incident could have been very different except for Officer Thurman and his actions.”

As for the girl’s appeal of her delinquency by reason of aggravated assault, Assistant Knox County Public Defender Christina Kleiser won. The state conceded the girl was convicted under the wrong statute, so the appellate court dismissed the case.

Juvenile escapee added to TN ‘Ten Most Wanted’ list

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the last juvenile remaining at large from recent youth detention center breakouts.

The TBI on Wednesday said De’Mario Fisher of Nashville was added to its Top Ten Most Wanted list.

He was one of 32 juveniles involved in a Sept. 2 breakout from the Woodland Hills Youth Development Center in Nashville. Two guards were injured in that escape, the first of three major incidents at Woodland Hills in September. There was also a riot in the yard and another breakout in which 13 teens escaped.

According to the TBI, Fisher is believed to be armed.

Anyone with information on Fisher’s whereabouts is urged to call (800) TBI-FIND.

DCS suspects staff foulup in latest juvenile lockup escape

A preliminary investigation into the mass escape of 13 teens from Woodland Hills Youth Development Center on Friday night found that a failure to follow proper security procedures led to the third outbreak this month at the juvenile lockup, according to the Tennessean.

And newly obtained 911 calls convey a sense of chaos on the grounds as staff tried to account for teenage boys who had broken out of their dorm rooms — and panic from drivers in the neighborhood who were being pelted with rocks.

…Friday’s incident was the third major incident to erupt this month at the juvenile facility, which houses teens 14 to 19 years old who typically have committed three or more felonies.

On Sept. 1, 32 youths escaped — nearly half of all teens housed at the facility. Two 17-year-olds remain at large. On Sept. 3, more than a dozen teens broke out of their dorm rooms and rioted in the courtyard, brandishing sticks and fire extinguishers. Two security guards were injured.

Officials with the Department of Children’s Services said Monday that, based on a preliminary investigation, “some staff members did not adhere to policies and procedures.”

A department spokesman said he could release no further details about what went wrong.

“That investigation is not complete, so we can’t say for sure,” spokesman Rob Johnson said. “But that is our preliminary indication — that security protocols were likely not followed.”

…One of the seven 911 calls made during the escape, from a man who encountered the teens on his way to his mother’s house, illustrates the potential danger.

“Do you all have an escape over here at Woodland Hills again?” a male caller asked the 911 operator. “We was on Stewarts Lane. My mama lives on Cato Road. There was about five of those inmates running to that railroad track down there. They started throwing rocks at my car.”

Security upgrades coming after latest DCS teen prison break

By Eric Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee officials plan to beef up security at a juvenile detention center where three major escape attempts in less than a month have worried the facility’s neighbors, but they also want to keep the it from becoming too much like an adult prison.

Jim Henry, commissioner of the state Department of Children’s Services, told The Associated Press on Monday that he plans to seek court approval to be able to lock the teens in their rooms and to give guards access to tear gas in emergencies. But he said he does not support arming the guards.

“We’re not going to re-create a correctional type facility, but we do need security so people can’t just attack a guard anytime they want to,” Henry said.

Authorities said 13 teens escaped from the Woodland Hills complex in Nashville on Friday night after overpowering a guard and squeezing through the main gate. All of them were apprehended by Sunday morning.

That incident followed a Sept. 1 breakout by 32 teens who kicked out metal panels under windows to get into the courtyard and then slipped under a weak spot under a fence. All but two of teens were later caught or turned in. Two nights later riots erupted in the facility, with youths breaking out of their dorms and brandishing fire extinguishers and sticks. The teens did not get past the perimeter fence during that incident.
Continue reading

After detention center escapes, riot: Legislators offer advice, Haslam wants a report

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.