It's bad news for one of Tennessee's youth development centers (YDCs). Nine concerns were identified in an internal-affairs investigative report of the Woodland Hills YDC in Nashville stemming from a March escape attempt by 22 juveniles.
Woodland Hills is the only facility in Tennessee housing female juvenile offenders, including two girls from Shelby County.
The report cites concerns with security, student-to-staff ratio violations, lack of a clear crisis plan, training, and ineffective communication among staff members. The Department of Children's Services (DCS) also released an outline for a corrective plan, which has been in development since mid-March.
The findings included a disproportionate ratio of 23 students per staff member at the facility. American Correctional Association Accreditation Standards mandates a 12-to-1 ratio. No emergency coordinator was in place during the disturbance, there was a shortage of emergency equipment such as handcuffs and protective gear, and students were allowed to assist the staff in security functions.
The uprising resulted when rumors of a malfunctioning gate spread through Woodland Hills, said DCS spokesperson Margie Maddux. The report revealed that the gate information was transmitted over hand-held radios.
During the incident, youths armed with bricks and broken mop handles made a run for the outer gates before being stopped by staff members. Maddux said the students never got outside the facility but did reach an inner courtyard. Nashville police were called in to secure the outer premises. Sixteen staff members suffered injuries ranging from minor cuts and scratches to a broken nose. Juveniles involved in the uprising were disciplined, separated, and transferred to the other three centers in the state.
DCS commissioner Viola Miller has stopped all future students assigned to the facility until the nine concerns are addressed. Ken Steverson, newly appointed executive director for Juvenile Justice Programs, will be in charge of implementing the corrective action plan, as well as possible development of a DCS tactical unit and joint training with the Nashville Police Department.
Maddux said Woodland Hills is a "Level 4" YDC but declined to call it a maximum-security facility. "This is not a correctional model and we don't use terms like those," she said. Youthful offenders, for example, are called "students," not inmates. "We still try to maintain a social-services approach and provide counseling to get at the root of these kids' problems."
Woodland Hills houses 88 male and 24 female students, ages 12 to 19, arrested for violent offenses ranging from assault on property to rape and murder.