published Monday, March 26th, 2012

Cook: Learn from Oklahoma; keep Taft Youth Center open

Here's what happened in Oklahoma.

Last year, wanting to cut 5 percent from its budget, the Office of Juvenile Affairs -- Oklahoma's version of Tennessee's Department of Children's Services -- decided to close L.E. Rader Center in Sand Springs.

Rader was the state's only maximum-security youth center, the place that housed the most violent youth. Just like our state's Taft Youth Center in Pikeville, Tenn., which is set to close June 30.

Knowing that no proper plans had been made to update other medium-security facilities in Oklahoma to handle the potential flood of youth offenders, the Department of Justice pleaded with the Office of Juvenile Affairs, warning that things could go terribly wrong if Rader's juveniles were transferred.

The Office of Juvenile Affairs ignored the warnings and began moving youths to other facilities and began to shut Rader down.

Within weeks, all hell broke loose.

Kids escaped from their new, less-secure facilities. One boy suffered a brain injury after being beaten at night in his bed by a youth who had formerly been housed at Rader -- the only place in the state that could lock night-time doors on its youth.

There were riots. A "full-blown riot," as one police officer told The Tulsa World.

Why does this matter to us in Tennessee?

"That's what is going to happen here," said an administrator with Taft who wished to remain anonymous, afraid of retribution

from officials within Department of Children's Services. I'll call him Smith.

"Rader is Oklahoma's Taft," said Smith. "Tennessee is getting ready to do exactly the same thing."

On Thursday, state officials drove to Taft to deliver some damning news -- on June 30, the doors will shut. Wanting to cut budgets by 5 percent, Gov. Bill Haslam and Department of Children's Services Commissioner Kathryn O'Day have not included money for Taft in the upcoming budget.

It's going to come back and haunt them. And us.

The Pikeville juvenile detention center houses what Rep. Jim Cobb, R-Spring City, calls "the meanest of the mean." Yet the miracle of Taft is that some of these kids come in tougher than sledgehammers, yet leave educated, restored, rehabilitated.

Based on state findings, Taft has the lowest recidivism rate in Tennessee [3 percent] and, judging by a 2011 study produced by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, one of the lowest recidivism rates in the nation.

The entire nation.

Legislators can refuse to pass the governor's budget until funding is restored to Taft. Or they can allow Taft to be shut down, then watch their state unravel as the youth center most successful at treating dangerous juveniles closes.

Taft documents show that between 2006 and 2011, administrators at other youth centers -- Mountain View, Woodland Hills and Wilder -- transferred 265 youth to Taft.

"They threaten their kids with sending them to Taft," said Smith. "They don't want Taft to close because it scares them to death they're going to get kids back they sent here."

In that five-year period, Woodland Hills transferred more juveniles [129] to Taft than any other youth center. Woodland Hills was also the site of a riot in 2004. Guess where they sent the troublemakers?

"We got them," said Smith.

Woodland Hills was also the subject of a 2010 federal investigation that documented the institution as having some of the highest rates of sexual abuse in the nation.

But they want to shut Taft down?

It's going to be like a boomerang. Shutting down Taft will exacerbate the problems, not solve them. And all of the cost and violence will come right back down on us, tenfold.

Just ask Oklahoma.

But here's the trick: We still have time to make another decision. If some of our state's most violent teenagers can leave Taft as humane, educated citizens -- lions becoming lambs -- then God knows a few Democrats and Republicans can agree on this one issue, preventing passage of a budget that doesn't fund Taft.

How much is keeping Taft open worth?

It's going to be a lot cheaper than the cost of closing it.

David Cook can be reached at

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

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LaughingBoy said...

Am I missing something? Why not use the same methods Taft uses, if they're any different, at the other facilities if they're so successful?

March 26, 2012 at 12:37 a.m.
pikeville said...

Taft has been in operation for over 90 years. Unlike dealing with assembly lines, dealing with the most troubled youth in the state is personality driven!! The employees at Taft have been trained in this personality character for GENERATIONS. It won't work at the other places. If it did Taft would have been closed long ago.

March 26, 2012 at 7 a.m.
LaughingBoy said...

Then start the personalty driven rehabilitation at the other facilities. I find it hard to believe the staff at the other places are complete amateurs who can't do their jobs like it's being implied.

March 26, 2012 at 11:46 a.m.
RealDeal said...

Yea Haslam and O'Day, screw all of the loyal employees who have given their whole lives to the welfare of our youthful offenders and the State of Tennessee. We are being treated like a wad of chewing gum on the bottom of your $400 dollar shoes! I have no respect whatsoever for you or any of your minions! You have listened to NOTHING ANYONE has had to say, you have condoned all the lies and fuzzy math, and your method of opeation sickens me beyond words. The day will come when you will pray that you have Taft back and the employees who have made it what it is. I hope I get to see this day. I feel like our state is being run as a dictatorship, and your actions and lack of forethought prove it! Enjoy all your big paychecks Nashville, because the day will come when all the corruption and dirty politics will rear their ugly heads. Guess what you are gonna look like? The f-ing idots that you have proven to be. Oh, and for the other state employees who have failed to speak to Taft employees through all of this, you can go elsewhere. It's your turn next and it WILL happen. This administration has got to make its money through privitization, off the backs of the lowly taxpayers. Get ready for crime to rise, more detention centers being built, institutions being destroyed and people getting hurt because it is coming. Hope the powers that be can sleep at night because it will be on them!

March 26, 2012 at 10:21 p.m.
outthere said...

Laughing Boy, it has to do with presonal drive. The employees at other institutions are there for one reason, to make a paycheck. The employees at Taft have a different mindset. They are there to make a difference. When the employees at Taft send a child home from Taft, it's not unusual to recieve a phone call two or three months later from that child telling them how they are doing, checking on that employee and others that worked with the child. Taft employees are not in the business just for the payday, but rather to see the "light" come on and be able to see the child mature. Taft employees make that difference, see the child grow, instil that confidence that one needs to succeed in life. NO other developement center does this and it's not something that can be "taught" to other employees. It is something that has evolved over the years by the employees, passed on to other newer employees as they have come to work there. The ole Forrest Gump saying is so correct, Stupid is as Stupid does. Haslem and O'Day are more interested in making money off of the state than doing what is right for our kids. This is an unfortunate situation because kids and employees at other institutions will get hurt, institutions will be destroyed, and the cost will FAR outweigh the few millions they think they will save. It's not too late, BUT will any of the legislators, other than the ones that have spoken out, stand up to Haslem and demand Taft stay open??

March 27, 2012 at 8:49 a.m.
acerigger said...

Does anyone besides me suspect CCA lobbyist money behind this?

March 27, 2012 at 9:50 a.m.
mountainboy said...

I got a good idea LaughingBoy, why dont u go to Woodland Hills or the like and just take off with that great idea that u have. Sounds like u have the problem all figured out lol. The staff at the other places arent interested in helping rehabilitate the boys cause the admistrators dont give them the proper tools to work with like we have here a Taft. There is no support from within which is pretty much like working construction wit a bunch or wood carving tools if u will. Get my drift. They are just there doing what they can to stay safe and keep the boys safe because they are not backed or driven by thier adminstration. Unless u have done or currently do this type of work u should prob find another article to post your brillant ideas on, leave all the big thinking to Haslam And CCA. Thier plan is worse than urs! ACERIGGER u aint the only one who sees the writting on the wall, i bet CCA is behind it 100%. They can get the 12 million that Taft would be getting and really by a fancy suit with that type of kick back every year. This is a really good artcle and my appreciation goes out to Cook for researching Taft and telling the facts. We are the best in the state ant one of the best in the nation, so open or closed taft will always be a positve piece of Tennessee history. Yea they been some rough times at Taft but when u deal with the worst u gonna get the worst. Taft has been able to maintain that for 90 years, can any one else say they same? Closing Taft is a shame, after all it has done for the State it gets shut down and all the good it has done will be filed away in some cabniet in Nashville, home of the money grubbin beaucrat.

March 27, 2012 at 10:13 a.m.
RealDeal said...

I have never neen known for holding back, that's for sure. And I'm gonna divulge a little more information for the world to know. For MANY years, the powers that be have been trying to close Taft for a variety of reasons. Most of the reasons were based on unfounded allegations of prejudice. That is BS! If anything, Taft employees have been the victims of reverse discrimination because of those allegations, and some of the higher ups in Nashville made no secret of the fact that they would close us. Most of them are too chicken $hit to even come to Taft because of all the lies. I would put the staff of Taft up against any other state institution when it comes to helping people out whether it's a co-worker, a parent, a visitor, or a child in custody. Who else can say that? There is an endless list of the kind acts displayed by Taft employees, but I guess that doesn't count anymore than the clients we serve. As the saying goes, they may win the battle but end up losing the war. When this happens, I'm gonna have to say "YOU WERE WARNED"!

March 27, 2012 at 11:29 a.m.
RealDeal said...

Laughing Boy, I can see that you are clueless on this subject. Other employees from the other facilities refer to us as the 'mountain mafia' and call us every name in the book from rednecks, to goon squads, etc. But buddy let them have a boy that they can't make any progress with and guess what, he's on the next bus to Taft! And, even more remarkable is that many times they gain a few points on their IQ scores. That's because Taft is not designed to house MR offenders. So, like the other poster told you, maybe you had better go find another topic to post under since you obviously have not a clue about this issue. After all, NO ONE can teach MORALITY! Now, I've said all I need to say about your uninformed comments. Have a nice life.

March 27, 2012 at 11:34 a.m.
LaughingBoy said...

Yes, I think I have a clue now, several actually:

"The employees at other institutions are there for one reason, to make a paycheck." No other staff members at the other institutions give a care, got it.

Those trying to close Taft are "f-ing idiots", and someone making such a comment doesn't understand why his or her group is called a goon squad.

At least one member of this squad talks about how there is such care and compassion for the teens, then he or she seems to be hoping for riots and anarchy at their new destinations. Such compassion.

Anything else?

March 27, 2012 at 2:50 p.m.
ninnyof3 said...

Well Laughing Boy no one is hoping for anything they are just stating the obivious. Like your were told before u don't have a clue about the setting of Taft or what takes place there. The employees of Taft do care tremendously about the boys that are housed there and I have witnessed this first hand. Everyone there goes above and beyond to see that theses boys get the help and services they need. And like it has been said many times before Taft is who the other facilities call when they can't control a boy but who will they call now. This is going to be a move that HASLAM AND O'DAY IS GOING TO REGRET MAKING. Why is this so hard for people to understand. Those boys know whats coming they know where they will be going and they know what they will be able to get away with once they get there because there won't be a Taft to threaten them with.

March 27, 2012 at 4:38 p.m.
Crossville said...

Wow, is all I can say. You've done it again, Mr. Cook. Such an awesome article! And as for the posts on here, I agree with ALL with the exception of LaughingBoy. My guess is you either work in Nashville, you are an offended person from another facility, or you just simply have no clue at all. The employees at Taft have a reason for their confidence in their jobs and that is the success rate of the students who leave there. That speaks louder than anything in my opinion. And for the record you can not “teach” personality traits. Sorry to burst your bubble. The kind of job that is done at Taft, not everyone can do. It takes a special kind of person to do it. And as far as being “goons” well, if that’s what it is called then that’s what it is called. But keep in mind that it does not change the fact that the “goons” that work at Taft do a better job. And THAT, LaughingBoy, is FACT. The goal is to turn the young men around and show them a better way of life. And the recidivism rate of 3% proves that is what Taft does. Your own state statistics shows Taft is the best .… On a different note, Woodland Hills (as stated above) transferred 129 students to Taft in a 5 yr period; if you do the math, that’s one student about every 14 days!! Wow! That’s a lot of students when you think about it! I’m not saying the other institutions do a bad job AT ALL. I’m saying Taft is a tool for them that they have used for years and years. If that tool is removed, what will they do with the student that assaults and injures staff members, violently assaults other students in custody, bullies them, extorts them, etc? … Where will those students be placed to keep the others safe? New Visions? They have wooden doors, no fence, no control cells, … This does not make sense at all. If Taft does close, I hope the end result is NOT like Oklahoma; for the sake of the staff at the other institutions. Because those staff did not ask for this just like the staff at Taft did not ask to lose their jobs. I just hope they don’t end up being the ones to pay the price for it. =(

March 27, 2012 at 6:09 p.m.
vanburen said...

Mr. Cook - what an article!!!! I've done some research on the Rader Center. I was shocked to continually come across article after artical detailing the violence and damage caused by their former youths after they were closed. And if I'm not mistaken, similar events have taken place elsewhere in the U.S. 265 Students sent to Taft over that time span!?!?!?! That is astonishing to say the least. That alone should be a neon arrow pointing to the clear fact that the other YDC's cannot handle the type of youth housed at Taft. If I were a parent at one of the other YDC's I would never rest a moment for fear my child would be woken in the middle of the night being beaten by a former Taft student. And what measures have been taken to prevent that from happening. I've read previously that Commissioner O'Day plans to put the worst of the worst from Taft at New Visions - the girls facility. Has a fence been put up to keep those kids in? I've not even seen that the girls have been moved yet. My heart breaks at the thought of all the good people at Taft losing their jobs. My heart also breaks at the thought of all the parents of the students at the other YDC's.

March 28, 2012 at 7:38 a.m.
shoe_chucker said...

so far none of the Taft staffers that post here have answered my one little question. which way did you vote in 2010? how about in 2008 and before?

as much as i feel for the staff, their families, and the kids who will suffer, i have to say if you voted R you are getting what you voted for.

the supreme court is looking at life sentence for juvey offenders and i bet you that within the next 5 years the local law enforcement starts to really crack down on minors with curfew laws and the like so they can stuff all the prisons for profits full of kids.

March 28, 2012 at 3:24 p.m.
pikeville said...

Being from Bledsoe Co. all my life I would say Taft is about half Democrats half Republican. I really don't get your point though? Other than Republican bashing? History tells us that both parties have attempted to close Taft. I applauded both the Democrats and Republicans who are fighting together to keep Taft in the budget. That being said this isn't about D or R its about the safety of the kids, safety of the public and the rehabilitation of the states most troubled youth. At Taft every student can be locked in their room!!(All 220 of them) At the others they can't because of fire codes. At Taft the nearest major highway is 30 miles, at the others a major highway is within rock throwing distance. Taft over the years has been designed for aggressive ,destructive kids. Woodland Hills and Mt. View were built for less aggressive,medium security kids. New Vision was built for GIRLS!! How much will the upgrades take to bring the other facilities up to institutional grade? Of all closures this state has done this has to be the worst thought out one of all. The department is no more ready to accept Taft's population than they were the day they announced their intent. Really it's a joke from what I here. I hope someone (employee or kid) doesn't have to get seriously hurt or killed before everyone says" Boy that was a dumb a-- idea" Trust me if Taft closes it will happen!!

March 28, 2012 at 10:21 p.m.
voice said...

The white collar paper pushers from Nashville have never like Taft, the "Mountain Culture" or anything about the place. Debra Valantine has tried for years ( through every Gov. we have had in the past 20 years) to close Taft down but each of them saw thru this hatred of the development center. Taft has always done much more with much less support, funding per child, less equipment, less staff & a whole lot less assaulted officers & teachers. This has made the other centers look bad for years & Nashville paper pushers finally have a Gov. that believes what BS staff says instead of what the Facts on the dotted line say. Haslam & O'Day have made a great mistake, & I understand they both have a lot to gain Monitary wise from this closing, but I certainlly hope that one of these students don't break out while in Nashville & cause harm to anyone there esp. the Governer's Mansion, see while at Taft these kids are outta site & outta mind to Nashville, well when they close Taft down there going to be in Davidson County the entirer time, so when they escape there Gangsta's or Homies, or Cuz's or Dawg's what ever thy are calling there thug friends & running mates, will be right there to pick them up & get revenge on the Judge that sent them there, the governer that passed the law that put them there, the PO that revoked the probation & ect.... See even if a boy escaped from Taft he was still hundreds of miles away outa mind!!!!!!!!!!! Not Anymore......

March 29, 2012 at 1:35 a.m.
voice said...

Get ready for Crimes to happen in retaliation for the sentences handed down from Judges, Lawyers, Po's, Case Workers & ect that make these youth's have to send time in these centers. ( Believe it or not this is the exact frame of mind these kids have)... Every escape that Woodland Hills has had in the recent years have had rides waiting or better yet the staff there gave them keys to their vehicle to escape in. If they could not handle the majority of the kids housed at taft throughout the years what miraclious changes have been made that WH is now prepaired to handle every one of tham all at the same time with the students thay have now. When a Center sends you a student every 14 days thay can not control what are they going to do when 65 of the ones they couldn't control arrive together? The can't threaten them with Taft hell it's closed, are they going to send them to wilder? That's like sending a starved bulldog into a pen of puppies eating out of a pan & not expecting any problems, Well lets see they csn send them to Mtn. View oh wait, Taft gets more from Mtn. View than they get from Woodland can't do that, Tell you what let's send them home so they can rob, beat, & hospitalize Miss Betsey down the street, she's 87 & always has a pocketbook full of money that sounds like a good place to send a violent 17 year old, he's only 6 feet 5 & don't weigh but about 265, he's just a misguided child in Ms. O'Day's eyes, rekon how many of thoes kids are from Haslam's neighborhood? If there was one you can bet he ain't going be at Wh, MV, or Wilder.....

March 29, 2012 at 1:46 a.m.
vanburen said...

I hope they take the tampon dispenser off the bathroom wall at New Visions. It would make a wonderful weapon. Back in 2004 or so when the riot happened at Woodland Hills, those kids made weapons out of everything. People have fought very hard in the past trying to keep New Visions open for the girls. They just seem to be sitting back saying that it's OK to put the girls elsewhere as long as Taft is going to close. Wonder if those people are the same people who have always wanted Taft closed due to the "mountain mentality" and Taft's "culture" Now it's ok for the girls to go elsewhere and it's OK that Taft kids come in and tear the place to pieces or even burn it to the ground. They are never going to be able to keep those boys in that place. Way too many options for them to find themselves a way for um... early release..... I've also heard horror stories over the years of how these kids have retaliated against people. Imagine being their field worker and coming home only to find the heads of your puppies on fence rails. Or to find little Mr. violent/aggressive teen sitting on your couch with a gun....

"Voice", you mentioned the monitary gain that Haslam and O'Day are getting out of this. What about the monitary gain that Haslam is getting from Pilot. The Fuelman cards that the state vehicles use can be used at Pilot. Also, the state is now utilizing rental cars which coincidentally Haslam is vested in. Sounds like he is double dipping. "Shoe_Chucker", I for one did not vote for the LITTLE DICTATOR and would gladly push and shove my way to the front of the line to have him removed from office. I'm afraid he is still in the beginning stages of destroying the state. And I don't care what wonders he did for Knoxville. Let him go right back there. Yes he is creating a few PRIVATE jobs here and there, but he is doing more damage than good imo.

March 29, 2012 at 7:52 a.m.
Crossville said...

Wow … what difference does it make if you are Democrat or Republican? Seriously!! Right is right and wrong is wrong. And it is wrong to close Taft. There is no other way of putting it!! Just like Pikeville said, BOTH parties have tried to close it in the past. It has nothing to do with D or R at all. It’s all about the money; not the kids, not the staff, nothing but the money; the money that is going to be made from privatization. Wait and see. I’ve said it before and I will continue to say that it makes no sense to close which is obviously the best institution. The state of TN’s own stats shows that Taft is the best for the students. I thought we were in this for rehabilitation! Obviously not because they want to close the place that has the best results with rehabilitating these young men. It just makes no sense.

March 29, 2012 at 10:21 a.m.
GC said...

I personally believe it is because of the longevity of the staff at Taft - which cost more because of the thousands of years of service that the experienced workers have. If you total up the years of service of all Taft employees it would amaze you. This alone proves that it is an excellent work environment with people who work together as a team....and believe me it takes a team working together to deal with the state's most difficult youth. It is these youth and the other facilities that will suffer the most. In my opinion the juvenile justice system - institutions - will have MAJOR problems in the upcoming months after closing Taft.....just wait and see. All of the other facilities will be at maximum capacity and this will be a very DANGEROUS situation for both staff and kids. It sickens me to think what is about to happen and the injuries that will result from overcrowding and mixing younger kids with older more aggressive offenders. I am a child advocate and see this move as one that is not at all considering the well being of the kids in DCS facilities..not to mention the staff who have to deal with them daily. I wish the other facilities well and hope that I am wrong with what I think will occur. The other facilities have always depended upon Taft to help with the most disruptive is a shame that this help will no longer be available. THIS DECISION NEEDS TO BE RECONSIDERED IMMEDIATELY and needs to be made based on SAFETY of both the kids and the staff at other facilities.

March 29, 2012 at 8:52 p.m.
Huckleberry said...

I would like to thank you,Mr. Cook, for putting the closure of Taft in a light that does tell the employees they have done a good job and that what they have worked to do with the Taft students has not been in vain. This is more than our Commissioner, Deputy Commissioner, and Governor have done. For Laughing Boy--The employees at Taft are not asking for something bad to happen at another YDC. We are simply stating what we fear will happen because of the type of behavior that sent the boys to Taft. You need to come to Taft and observe the employees working with the students. The abuse and frustration and body fluids hurled at us daily do not deter us from working with these young men until we get them to a state of mind where they can accept what they are and move forward. It is because of the standards we believe in that we are able to do this every day and every night. We believe that we can make the student better than when we rceived him. These students are used to people giving up on them especially family or those close to them. The staff has to work hard to build that bond of trust. That takes time and the Taft seasoned staff has that kind of courage. Staff at the other YDC's are rarely there long enough to know the kids let alone work with them. The statistics prove us right, but when the students call us to check on us we see that "light" has been passed on to them. No, they don't all make it, but enough do to keep us going. We are frustrated that our work has been and is taken so lightly. We take our work seriously and value what we have done. It is too bad that others do not see the value of our work for the sign of the almighty dollar. I hope I get to hand the "pink slips" to those who so richly deserve them. Receiving one when you have worked so hard and sacrificed so much to do your job to the max is embarrassing and humiliating. I just hope I get to return the favor.

March 29, 2012 at 9:06 p.m.
pikeville said...

GC and Huckleberry, You may have hit the nail on the head ! How much could Dictator Haslam and company save by screwing 150+ employees out of full retirement benefits? Most employees with 25+ years won't go to the prison due to physical restrictions. It's a shame that any elected official or voting Tennessee citizen would let this atrocity go without fighting till the end. Thank you Times Free Press, David Cook, elected officials both Democrat and Republican, citizens who have said "this isn't right" Think about it folks. What if these were your parents, grandparents, sons or daughters that had been loyal civil servants? Then at the end of their long awaited career some woman who knew absolutely nothing about the business, a Dept. Comm. who was just a yes man, and a fellow who looks like the "Church Lady" on SNL did this to your loved one. Wonder how many people would like Tennessee politics on Face book then? Seems to me these people should have grounds for some type of lawsuit. Age discrimination, forced retirement? All I know is back when a Tennessean was a Tennessean they would have said "SHAME ON YOU LETS MEET IN THE MIDDLE AND SETTLE THIS"

March 31, 2012 at 6:35 a.m.
BigTafter said...

Check todays there is another story as well.....CAN I SAY!!!! WE TOLD YOU SO!!!!!! SHAME ON O'DAY!!!!

April 17, 2012 at 7:53 p.m.
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