At least 67 juvenile offenders who had been ordered into the custody of the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services escaped and were arrested on new charges in Nashville within the past three months, Juvenile Court Judge Betty Adams Green said yesterday. The Tennessean reports that Green charged deputy agency commissioner Steve Hornsby and four other top officials with contempt of court after a teenager who is a suspect in an armed robbery escaped and later failed to show up for a Jan. 6 court hearing.
The judge demanded to know why kids who are supposed to be in custody continue to flee and commit more crimes. Officials cited a number of reasons, ranging from a lack of beds at secure facilities to poor communication among workers and an outdated process for assessing whether kids are a flight risk. Escapes of juvenile offenders have become epidemic in Tennessee. A Tennessean investigation in May found that juvenile offenders had escaped from DCS more than 4,400 times between 1999 and 2004. Hornsby, a former Juvenile Court judge, was named head of the agency’s juvenile justice unit after some lawmakers, fed up with the way the agency was handling lawbreakers, mounted an effort to sever the juvenile detention system from the agency.