DCS turning over Mountain View juvenile penal center to private operator

The state Department of Children’s Services is moving to convert part of the Mountain View Youth penal center into a privately run treatment center, reports WBIR-TV.

Rob Johnson, DCS spokesman, stressed Thursday the Dandridge center itself will remain open. But the state argues that in its traditional role as a “secure” center for hardened juvenile offenders Mountain View is now underused. DCS announced the development Thursday afternoon.

The idea is to install a 60-bed “Level Three” center that would offer youth in custody more chances to learn job skills and get treatment. It would be “staff secure,” but would allow juveniles in custody more freedom to move around – without the perimeter razor wire that’s now in place.

Mountain View can accommodate 144 people; there are 39 there now, according to DCS.

“We have a really big need for these Level 3 beds,” Johnson said.

Mountain View is one of three such centers in Tennessee with elevated security designed to house serious offenders. In recent years, it’s been the site of escape attempts and assaults on staff members.

The trend is to de-emphasize the traditional state correction center and emphasize , when possible, more treatment-based options for juvenile offenders, according to Johnson.

Mountain View would keep a “hardware secure” area with up to 24 beds, the razor wire fence and steel doors. It would also be run by the private operator, which would lease Mountain View from the state.

…Johnson said DCS already contracts with almost 30 firms that provide services so it wouldn’t necessarily have to seek formal proposals in a bidding system for Mountain View.

Making the change, according to DCS, would free up $3 million for “prevention services” that would go to help reach young people to ensure they don’t end up in the juvenile justice system.

Note: The DCS press release is below.

News release from Department of Children’s Services

The Tennessee Department of Children’s Service is planning on turning Mountain View Youth Development Center into a privately operated facility that is focused on the mental health needs, jobs skills and trauma-informed care of the juvenile-justice youth in its custody.
With 39 youth currently housed there, Mountain View is well below the 144-bed capacity for which it is designed. This is in line with a years-long trend in Tennessee and across the nation, as juvenile justice programs de-emphasize correctional-style, hardware-secure institutions in favor of programs that can treat and educate youth, while keeping them closer to their home counties.
DCS is exploring how best to take advantage of the empty beds in the Jefferson County facility in a way that meets the needs of East Tennessee youth.  At this time though, no provider has been selected.
The primary option under consideration involves contracting with a current DCS provider to open a 60-bed Level Three facility at Mountain View. That portion would be “staff secure.” Youth would have more freedom inside the facility, and in keeping with a less correctional approach, the razor wire on the perimeter fence would come down. 
At the same time, the private provider would operate up to 24 hardware-secure beds, keeping youth behind steel doors and a razor-wire fence. Some of the youth in DCS custody have serious crimes against persons on their records and are not ready for a less restrictive placement. 
Leaving a section of Mountain View hardware-secure would also guarantee that DCS would still have access to three such placement options throughout the state, while keeping more East Tennessee youth closer to home and to their families.
The department estimates that this change at Mountain View could free approximately $3 million for prevention services that could help keep youth from coming into the juvenile-justice system in the first place.
The current 120 staff members will have the option of working for the new provider at Mountain View or taking jobs elsewhere at DCS or at other state agencies.
Before any of this could take place, DCS would need a commitment from a private provider that would be willing to undertake the necessary changes to the physical plant and, most importantly, to deliver effective evidence-based programs to the youth. A provider would have to meet licensing and accreditation requirements. The state would lease the facility to the provider.
At one time, Tennessee operated five hardware-secure facilities, with a combined capacity of 600. Since 2012, it has had only three: Wilder Youth Development Center in Somerville, Woodland Hills Youth Development Center in Nashville and Mountain View in Dandridge. They have a combined capacity of 204. Today’s combined YDC census is 167. Under this arrangement, Mountain View’s current daily cost per youth is $674.
Tennessee’s hardware-secure facilities are entirely state funded, but youth placements in staff-secure, Level Three facilities are eligible for partial federal funding.
Over the past three years, DCS has added 72 staff-secure Level Three beds in private-provider facilities in Middle Tennessee, and the department would like to offer more such options in the east, particularly given the vacant beds in the three youth development centers. 
DCS contracts with 29 private providers across the state. While each provider has its own areas of expertise, including working with children in foster care, most offer services to youth in the juvenile-justice system. Three providers offer services to juvenile-justice youth exclusively. No private providers currently operate hardware-secure facilities in Tennessee.

One Response to DCS turning over Mountain View juvenile penal center to private operator

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


Posts and Opinions about Tennessee politics, government, and legislative news.