No reprieve for Taft Youth Development Center

No reprieve for Taft Youth Development Center

March 26th, 2012 in Opinion Times

The Taft Youth Center is located north of Pikeville, Tenn.

Photo by Jake Daniels/Times Free Press.

The announcement late last week that employees at the Taft Youth Development Center in Pikeville will soon receive 90-day notices, and that their jobs will be eliminated as of July 1, strongly suggests that all discussion about the future of the center that ably serves the needs of some of Tennessee's most troubled young men is over. Gov. Bill Haslam, the Department of Children's Services and other cost-cutting officials and bureaucrats appear to have carried the day. Never mind that state officials have failed to make a case for closure. Politics, it seems, triumphs over reason.

There is apparently a bit of wiggle room about closing the facility. July 1, for the moment, is a tentative date, but only because Haslam's budget -- which contains no funding for the facility -- has not been approved yet. There's little doubt, though, that he'll get his way. He's shown no interest in the continued operation of Taft and his supporters control the state's legislative process. Given that, it seems that Taft's fate -- and the employment future of its trained and efficient his staff -- is almost surely a done deal barring some last minute reprieve.

There's little hope that will occur. Haslam and Children's Services officials have turned a deaf ear to those who correctly cite the many reasons for its continued operation. The closure, then, seems inevitable. Though they can't say so publicly, those elected officials and private citizens who have advocated for Taft in recent months now privately admit their efforts have borne no fruit, and that additional advocacy is unlikely to produce a positive result.

The Children's Services Department says the 90-day notices are being sent to ease the difficulties unemployment will bring to Taft workers. Officials additionally say that they are trying to time the end of employment at Taft so that those who will lose their jobs can seek employment at the nearby Bledsoe County Correctional Complex, a state prison for adults that is scheduled to open next year. That's some comfort for the job market there. State officials say they hope to hire displaced Taft employees for the new facility if appropriations allow. Hopefully, that will be the case.

Even so, the state seems to have given little thought to the real costs of closing Taft. It clearly has overlooked the vital programs and training provided there for troubled youth, and the proximity to helpful family members who support their rehabilitation.

Many of Taft's former residents testify to the center's merit. They are quick to say they enjoy productive lives now because of the time they spent at Taft. The state, too, has ignored evidence put forth by area legislators, judges, case workers and others that closing the center is not financially viable and that it remains a valuable asset to the community where it is located and to the region it serves.

None of that seems to matter. Haslam and the GOP controlled legislature need to balance a budget adversely affected by politicians' long-standing refusal to replace Tennessee's almost total reliance on an unfair and regressive sales tax for revenue with a more equitable income tax.

As a result, the state -- yet again -- must whack appropriations without regard for the damage the reduction in funds will cause. In the case of the Taft Youth Development Center, it will bring considerable harm to the troubled population and to supportive families. That's far too high a price to pay for the fiscal and bureaucratic short-sightedness that are the direct cause for Taft's almost certain closure.