NASHVILLE — 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, several officials say.
"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, RSpring 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 proved 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."
Noting that Gov. Bill Haslam signed the 20122013 appropriations bill that zeros out Taft's funding less than a month ago, Sudderth said it included money to "wind down" Taft operations past July 1 "if necessary."
Children's Services Commissioner Kathryn O'Day recommended closing Taft, the most costly of the state's five Youth Development Centers. Given the governor's directive to reduce overall state spending by 2 percent and other factors, it was the logical choice. She said its 80-plus inmates easily could be held at other centers. State officials said the move would save about $8.5 million.
Supporters vehemently disagreed, saying the facility is known for helping the "worst of the worst" teens to turn their lives around.
As of June 13, 37 students remained, Sudderth said. She noted that not all students are in the "intensive treatment program" for "challenging youth."
And other centers have "special units" capable of handling them, she said.
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."
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.