The Department of Children’s Services has seen a sharp spike in violence involving children and youths housed in its juvenile detention system in just the past three months, according to data obtained by The Tennessean. Over July, August and September, there were 102 youth-on-youth or youth-on-staff assaults that involved teachers, staff and guards at Woodland Hills Youth Development Center in Nashville, a facility that holds 125 boys and young men ages 13 to 19.
At the Mountain View Youth Development Center in Jefferson County, where 105 boys and young men live, there were 67 reported assaults in the same three-month period.
And at Wilder Youth Development Center in Fayette County, which houses 139 boys and young men, the assault total for three months reached 90.
The rash of assaults reported at DCS facilities follows a controversial decision by agency Commissioner Kate O’Day to shut down two of the state’s detention centers on July 1 as a cost-saving measure. Those two facilities — the Taft Youth Development Center for boys in Bledsoe County and the New Visions center for girls in Nashville — had been where DCS sent some of its most violent and troubled youths.
Those youths have now been transferred to four of DCS’ remaining facilities.
State efforts to close down Taft Youth Development Center and transfer some of Tennessee’s toughest teen offenders to other state facilities are creating a flow of delinquents into some county lockups, reports Andy Sher.
“All I’m hearing is the detention centers are holding them until there’s an opening [at state facilities] and it’s piling up and bottlenecking,” said Rep. Jim Cobb, R-Spring City, who was among area lawmakers opposed to closing the 95-year-old center in Bledsoe County.
Department of Children’s Services spokeswoman Molly Sudderth denied in an email that there are problems related to shuttering Taft. It houses offenders ages 16 to 19 with at least three prior felony convictions, or those convicted of violent crimes or who have proven difficult to manage in other state facilities.
“We aim to place all Youth Development Center-eligible youth within 30 days of their commitment,” Sudderth said in the email. “On June 14, 2012, the average length of stay for a youth waiting in detention before being placed in a Youth Development Center was 14 days.”
A year ago, it was 22 days, she said. Area lawmakers also pointed out that the final closure has been delayed from July 1, the start of the new budget year, to July 13. But Sudderth said, “We would argue that there is no delay.”
…Richard Bean, superintendent of Knox County’s Richard L. Bean Juvenile Detention Center, said the state has been sending more teens there since Taft’s closure began. The state contracts with Knox County to hold delinquent juveniles.
“We had very few state kids, three or four [before]; you stay a few days,” Bean said Friday. “We’ve been running 30 a day … but we’re down now to 22 state kids. They don’t have anywhere to put the kids.”
He noted that many counties, including Hamilton, don’t contract with the state. In his immediate area, he said, “we’re the only guy in town.”
“They call and say, ‘Can you hold this kid until we find him a bed” either in a detention center or a foster home or group home. “As soon as they have an opening, they come get them.”
Bean said the state pays $132.88 per day per teen, but he doesn’t want to take in more than 25 at a time.
“They’re sending the good ones to someone else and the mean ones to me,” he said.
Davidson County Juvenile Court Judge Betty Adams Green said Saturday that it’s taking longer for state officials to pick up some of the teens she sentences.
“They’re staying a long time,” said Green, who was commissioner of the Department of Youth Development, DCS’ predecessor, back in the 1990s.
Green said two teens she knows of are “well beyond 30 days.” She didn’t know if they are headed for a youth center or other care, but said if the state is prioritizing those destined for the centers, “what about the ones who aren’t getting out because the others are getting preference?”
House Republicans soundly defeated a raft of Democratic attempts to revise their plans for state spending of $31.4 billion in the coming year Thursday and, by a closer margin, put down rebellion against closing a Taft Youth Center.
The end result was a 66-39 vote for HB3835, the budget bill submitted by Gov. Bill Haslam. It includes virtually everything that Haslam wanted along with some additions.
The additions, however, are in conflict with Senate plans and leave uncertain the prospects for enactment of the budget in time to adjourn the 107th General Assembly this week as leaders had planned.
The Senate will take up the budget today. As approved in committee, it includes several special projects that the House has axed.
The longest debate in the House – if not the most heated – came on an effort led by Rep. Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, to block Haslam’s plans to close the facility for juvenile offenders in Bledsoe County.
The Haslam administration is opposing a last-ditch effort by Rep. Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, to keep Gov. Bill Haslam from shutting down the state’s Taft Youth Development Center, reports Andy Sher. Sexton acknowledges winning his effort will be “extremely difficult.” Sexton has a budget amendment that would provide nearly $12 million to continue the Bledsoe County center for criminal teens. Finance Commissioner Mark Emkes said Tuesday the administration opposes the move to preserve the 96-bed facility.
The administration, which hopes to save $8.5 million annually through Taft’s closure, already is moving Taft’s residents to the state’s four other facilities. “I think Taft was studied very carefully and we can offer the same service at a lower cost somewhere else,” Emkes said. “We’re trying to spend taxpayer dollars wisely.”
He said many Taft employees will be able to work at the soon-to-open adult Bledsoe County Correctional Complex, which is located near Taft. Sexton acknowledged getting colleagues to agree to the amendment in the face of administration opposition “will be extremely difficult.”
Employees at Taft Youth Development Center soon will be getting 90-day termination notices in anticipation that the new state budget won’t have any funding for the Bledsoe County facility, reports the Chattanooga TFP. Department of Children’s Services spokeswoman Molly Sudderth said Friday that officials have met with Taft staff pending the release of the notices to about 150 employees remaining at the center in Pikeville, Tenn., that holds some of the state’s toughest young offenders. A new prison for adults — Bledsoe County Corrections Complex — has been built within eyeshot of Taft, and some Taft employees could get jobs there, she said.
“There is an administration amendment to the budget that, if the budget passes, then the Department of Correction would have the money to employ 168 people for the Bledsoe County Corrections Complex beginning July 1,” Sudderth said.
Hiring at the new prison will be accelerated if Taft is closed, she said. The prison is expected to create up to 400 jobs, officials have said. State inmates will be moved into the new state prison in early 2013. Passage of a Taft-less budget would shutter the 90-year-old facility on July 1, Sudderth said. Meanwhile, in Mental Health...
Facing expected closure this summer by the state Department of Mental Health, some 60 employees of Lakeshore Mental Health Institute already have left for other jobs, according to the News Sentinel. The remaining 314 on Monday will receive notice that their jobs will be terminated in 90 days, with the countdown to start April 1. Tennessee Department of Mental Health Director of Communications Grant Lawrence said the notice is to comply with labor law, contingent on the General Assembly’s approval of the department’s plan that includes closing the facility June 30, with “limited staff” still present.
“We don’t want to overstep the boundaries of the General Assembly,” Lawrence said, “but we have to comply with” the 90-day notice policy. He said the state’s human resources department has been working out severance packages for remaining employees, though he didn’t have details.
Job fairs at Lakeshore have connected potential employers with Lakeshore staff as well. Mental Health Commissioner Douglas Varney in November announced his plan to overhaul East Tennessee’s mental health support system.
Marion County Juvenile Court Judge Jay Blevins says a judicial delegation encompassing the entire East Tennessee region is opposing Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to close Taft Youth Development Center at Pikeville, reports the Chattanooga Times Free Press. “Everybody in East Tennessee, both Republicans and Democrats, have stated their objections to it,” he said. Taft is the oldest facility of its kind, Blevins said, and it’s also the best. “Their recidivism rate is as good as it gets,” he said.
“It’s no Harvard or Princeton, but it is a facility where these kids can get an education. I certainly utilize Taft every week. It would be a shame to see the facility shut down.”
Gov. Bill Haslam defended his plans for closing Taft Youth Center and Lakeshore Mental Health Institute in a Chattanooga speech, according the Times-Free Press. “Everybody says government is too big and you should cut it and run it like a business. But every time you make one of these decisions to cut some service, some people don’t like it.”
Haslam said the state’s five youth development centers across Tennessee are only about 70 percent full.
“I think it’s more economical for the state to have four centers that are about 90 percent full,” he said. “That will save us four to five million dollars a year.”
The job losses from the Taft center closing will be offset, at least for some workers, by a new state prison being built in Bledsoe County, Haslam said.
The governor said he also is getting criticism for proposing the shutdown of the Lakeshore Mental Health Institute in Knoxville less than a mile from his home. The center has 390 employees and houses 90 patients.
“We’re very confident that community providers can take care of those folks cheaper than what we’re doing,” Haslam said.
(Note: Updates, expands and replaces earlier post)
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s call for providing the most efficient services at the lowest cost ran into a wall of criticism Wednesday from members of his own party over his plans to shut down Taft Youth Development Center. Andy Sher reports: A bipartisan group of Government Operations Committee members focused their ire on Children’s Services Commissioner Kathryn O’Day, forcing her to defend her recommendations to Haslam for an hour.
Watching was an overflow crowd of Taft employees and top officials from Bledsoe County, where Taft is located, and Cumberland County.
O’Day maintained Taft deserves closure because it is the most costly of the five state prisons for young criminals.
She said closing Taft will result in an $8.5 million annual reduction in “unnecessary overhead we’re carrying.” That translates into about $4.4 million in actual savings because the money will be spent elsewhere within the department.
“The system on its best day today operates at 69 percent occupancy,” O’Day said. “In my previous career I was a private provider and residential services, and I can tell you that with a 69 percent occupancy rate I would have been out of business in very short order.”
Overall occupancy rates would improve by closing the 96-bed Taft to 87 percent, she said. She said she still couldn’t have operated on such an occupancy rate. O’Day also pointed out Taft is the oldest center.
Rep. Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, in whose district Taft sits, disputed cost savings. Taft and its estimated 169 employees guard over some of the oldest, most dangerous teen criminals, including gang members, Sexton said.
“With the closing of Taft there is concerns about putting these 17 1/2-year-old kids in with kids in another facility who are 14 and 15, and what’s going to happen to them?” Sexton said. “And what’s going to have to happen is the department is going to have to be held accountable.”
O’Day said the younger offenders would be separated in the three other male centers.
News release from Rep. Cameron Sexton’s office:
Nashville, TN – Over the last few months there has been a lot back and forth about the proposed closing of Taft Youth Development Center in Bledsoe County. The Department of Children Services has maintained Taft needs $37 million in improvements to remain open.
A bipartisan coalition of legislators joined together to oppose the closing of Taft Youth Center. Senator Eric Stewart (D-Belvidere), Representative Jim Cobb (R-Spring City), Representative Bill Harmon (D-Dunlap) and Representative Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville).
A few weeks ago Representative Sexton asked Commissioner O’Day to provide an itemize list detailing the $37 million price tag for improvements.
“Yesterday, Commissioner O’Day and her staff sent the requested information to us outlining the cost to rebuild Taft. It appears from the information we received, Commissioner O’Day is more concerned about the rehabilitation of the buildings at Taft than the rehabilitation of the students. To demolish buildings simply due to their age is short-sighted and leaves me to believe there is much more behind her proposal than what is being stated publically. I think it’s time we get to the bottom of it,” Senator Stewart stated.
In the release of information from Commissioner O’Day, DCS stated that five Taft buildings would need to be demolished and replaced at a cost of $28,790,737.50 due to the age of the structures.
“I have toured the facility multiple times and I am incredulous to the department’s desire to demolish buildings based simply on the year the building was built. Using that rationale, we should demolish the State Capitol and rebuild it because it is old too, built in 1859,” said Sexton.
— Note/Update: A Crossville Chronicle article on the matter is HERE.
Gov. Bill Haslam tells the Chattanooga TFP that a controversial recommendation to close Taft Youth Center near Pikeville is “very persuasive.”
If the center is closed, its 90 or so teen inmates would be moved to four other centers scattered across the state under the proposal by Children’s Services Commissioner Kathryn O’Day, saving a projected $4.4 million. “I still have some homework to do,” Haslam said. “But I think Kate’s basic argument of does it make sense to have four facilities that are 100 percent full and five that are 80 percent full is very persuasive.” ,,, Haslam said he is “particularly inclined” to go along with the proposal sooner rather than later.
He cited O’Day’s argument that many of Taft’s 167 employees should be able to find jobs at the nearby $208 million Bledsoe Correctional Complex, a prison for adults that’s slated to open in 2013.