Violent juveniles have terrorized Tennessee communities in the past because Department of Children’s Services staff weren’t putting them in secure facilities where they belonged, says The Tennessean. The department has been trying to do a better job placing dangerous youths where they can’t escape and where they will get the help and guidance they need, said Steve Hornsby, who heads the department’s new Juvenile Justice Division. The department has begun training staff on a new, more objective method of determining the proper placement for children. The new assessment, which is used in other states, uses a scoring system that takes into account the child’s criminal history, type of crimes committed, family and educational background, and other factors. The score gives officials a read on whether the child is at risk for further criminal behavior.
In the past year, a 16-year-old who failed to return on a weekend pass was accused of carjacking, a 15-year-old who had escaped four times from custody was arrested in connection with a homicide and a 17-year-old who had been charged with six felonies during the year was arrested on charges of burglary. These and other incidents raised the ire of police and court authorities. Rutherford County Juvenile Court Judge Donna Scott Davenport hasn’t seen any real improvement in how juvenile offenders are dealt with since the division was set up. This month, she questioned a decision to place a child in foster care who along with another juvenile in state custody who allegedly had choked another child and plotted to kill their foster parents. Gov. Phil Bredesen has proposed adding money to hire 96 more staffers at the state’s five secure juvenile facilities. There are 570 juveniles locked up in five youth development centers.