Continued TN Juvenile Detention Problems Raise Issues About Staffing


Three days after 32 teenagers escaped from a Tennessee juvenile detention center, two dozen teens broke out into the yard, creating a disturbance before dawn yesterday. Some of the youths involved had been returned after Monday's escape from the Woodland Hills Youth Development Center in Nashville. Police formed a ring around the fence to prevent another escape. As of yesterday, six of Monday's escapees had not yet been apprehended. The Christian Science Monitor says the incidents shine a light on calls by juvenile-justice reform advocates to improve the way teen behavior is managed when youths are confined, through programming that addresses their needs and better relationships with well-trained staff. “We can do a much better job of identifying the problems and responding to them before they turn into crises,” says Michele Deitch of the University of Texas in Austin, who has researched violence in juvenile justice facilities.

A lot of people approach behavior management as what to do when youths misbehave, but “it's about the need to create a system so there is discipline all the time,” she says. “By the time something reaches large-scale violence, escapes, and disturbances … that's telling me they don't have effective systems and security procedures.” Woodland Hills houses about 130 14- to 19-year-olds, many of them with three or more felonies on their record. It has had troubles dating back at least to 2004, when there was a violent escape attempt by more than a dozen teens. In 2010, Woodland Hills was among 13 facilities with the highest identifiable rates of sexual misconduct by staffers in the nation, with 26 percent of residents victimized, says a U.S. Department of Justice report.

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