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'It is definitely a security risk.' Juvenile court judge urges Metro leaders to fund new justice center

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Posted at 8:03 AM, Jan 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-11 09:03:17-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF)  — A Nashville juvenile court judge is urging Metro leaders to fund a new building to house juvenile justice system operations, replacing the 26-year-old building near Nissan Stadium.

"This center was built in 1994," Judge Sheila Calloway said. "And there are so many reports about when it was built that it was already too small for the needs that they had at that time."

Calloway said over the last 26 years those needs -- and the issue with the building -- have grown, and the juvenile justice system has outgrown the facility.

"We are way too small for what our needs are," Calloway said, adding that two of the courts magistrates have to hold court in another building because there isn't space in the current building for the increasing number of staff.

The space issues impact juveniles, as well. Calloway said children who are runaways or dealing with other minor issues are often placed with juveniles who are being detained for much more serious reasons, like homicide charges. Calloway said those situations are detrimental to a child's mental health and go against the court's mission or rehabilitation and healing.

"The building design and the building functions do not support us having a restorative community and a restorative court," Calloway said.

But Calloway and other court administrators said the issues go beyond a lack of space. Pictures show that during flooding events, raw sewage leaks into the building. The most recent incident came in August of last year.

"It's deplorable, no staff person, no young person should have to come in contact with that," Juvenile Court Clerk Lonnell Matthews said.

The design of the building also creates security issues, according to Calloway.

"We have a building that's connected and there's not security between the detention facility and the open area building part," Calloway said. "We have an open area, a lobby area, that is not staffed over the weekend, although you may have people coming in and going."

Calloway said those security risks were highlighted in November, 2019, when four teenagers escaped the detention center.

"It is not a secured building the way that it needs to be," she said.

Calloway is urging Metro leaders to fund a new building for the center, a request that comes with a $130 million price tag, according to a 2017 report. The judge acknowledges it is a big ask, especially as Nashville struggles with major financial problems, but she said the upgrades are a needed investment.

"It's a big number, but it is definitely something that our city and our community has to prioritize, it's something that's needed not only for our staff, but for our youth and for our families."