Violence spikes at Tennessee juvenile centers

NASHVILLE - The Department of Children's Services has had a spike in violence at its juvenile detention centers after shutting down two of their facilities earlier this year.

According to records obtained by The Tennessean, there were 102 assaults at Woodland Hills Youth Development Center in Nashville during the months of July, August and September.

The records showed there were 67 assaults in the same three-month period at the Mountain View Youth Development Center in Jefferson County and 90 assaults reported at the Wilder Youth Development Center in Fayette County for those three months.

The department closed two of its facilities - the Taft Youth Development Center in Bledsoe County and the New Visions center for girls in Nashville - as a cost-saving measure in July.

Rep. Cameron Sexton, a Crossville Republican who tried to keep the detention centers open, said this was what opponents of the closures feared would happen when the state began moving children into other facilities.

"Taft was for the worst of the worst," Sexton said. "They got the help they needed there. And we didn't want Taft kids who were 17 or 18 or 19 put in an environment with 13-year-olds and in a place that was not equipped to handle them. I fear that's what has happened."

DCS officials have acknowledged that the transition has been rocky. Albert Dawson Sr., deputy commissioner for juvenile justice, said violent incident appear to be leveling off and the agency is taking steps to address them.

"Every time a facility like ours goes through change there is a reaction," said

Police had to be called at least 47 times for assistance at Woodland Hills between July and September, which surpassed the total police visits in the previous two years combined.

The police records included incidents such as a guard trapped in a headlock who was punched repeatedly by a young man. Another assault involved a staff member who was ambushed by four youths and beaten until he was rescued by colleagues.

DCS spokesman Brandon Gee said the information on the police visits prompted them to order a full review of the incidents at Woodland Hills.

We "are concerned that there appears to be an increase in the number of calls for service being made to Woodland Hills YDC," said DCS spokesman Brandon Gee. "The department is in communication with the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department and has requested documentation necessary to conduct a full review of the report. ... Once we can complete a full review, we will determine what action is needed and will work to address issues raised."

The police data also show 25 rape reports made by youth at the facility in three months, but officials say a majority of those allegations were found to be false, according to police and a district attorney who reviewed the claims.

Two rape allegations are under investigation, a DCS spokesman said.